Luis Calvillo was so eager to see his girls running and chasing soccer balls that when he came home after being hospitalized for months, he just took a shower and got in the car again.
But at the soccer practice, the head coach of the El Paso Fusion Soccer Club was moving slowly and he limped.
“It’s very frustrating. I want to do things that I can’t, that I need to ask for help, that I need to have somebody help me,” Calvillo said. “It’s hard, but I need to learn that I’m not alone (and) that people are there for me.”
The coach and the team’s parents were holding a fundraiser in front of the Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall when a gunman opened fire on August 3, killing 22 people.
The girls, ages 10 to 11, were wearing their light blue jerseys and dark shorts, and were standing at the store’s grocery entrance holding signs for aguas frescas and chicharrones (pork rinds).
“I remember hearing the shots on Walmart and just thinking to myself, ‘God, please don’t let anything happen to the girls’,” said Calvillo, who was a few yards away at the fundraiser table.
While the girls were not wounded, Calvillo was shot five times. He also lost his dad, Jorge Calvillo Garcia, who died before help could arrive.
It’s been three months since the gunman, targeting Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, shattered the well-being of this community. Dozens of survivors are fighting to get their lives back. While they slowly recover from severe physical injuries, many still see the bloodshed in the form of vivid nightmares. They struggle financially because they can’t return to work just yet.
“I jump when I hear loud noises and I can’t sleep because of the nightmares,” said another survivor, Arnulfo Rascon. “Sometimes it’s like I’m living it all over again and other days I dream that someone is chasing me. There’s always a McDonald’s or a Walmart.”
About 400 people are currently seeking aid from One Fund El Paso, the victim’s relief group handling the more than $6 million raised by the community for victims of the shooting, said coordinator Stephanie Karr. The applicants include family members of those who were killed, people who received hospital or outpatient medical care, and those who need mental health services.
But estimates indicate that hundreds more could have been shopping at the Cielo Vista area Walmart that morning, officials said.
Veronica Carbajal, an attorney at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, said there’s different types of aid for victims to cover anything from housing to medical bills.
And those who apply for assistance in many cases found themselves struggling because some programs don’t pay out right away. “Unfortunately, the world didn’t stop on August 3rd for them,” Carbajal said. “They are dealing with physical pain and mental pain, but the bills are still due.”
Rascon, 56, severely injured his knee when he ducked to the ground to avoid the gunfire. The kitchen cabinet salesman had a knee replacement and hasn’t been able to return to work.
“My savings are running out,” Rascon said. “Everybody promises aid, but you don’t see much of it when you actually need it.”
When the gunfire stopped, they were surrounded by death
Mario De Alba Montes has spent the past 105 days hospitalized, recovering from a series of internal injuries.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight,” said De Alba Montes, 45, as he pointed to a bag full of white liquid nutrients. “I feel weak and get tired quickly because I can’t eat food (orally) until I have another surgery.”
The washer/dryer repairman, his wife and their 10-year-old daughter were shot; their injuries have kept them from going home to Chihuahua City, about 220 miles south of the US-Mexico border.
A road trip to El Paso meant to last no more than a couple of days turned into months of surgeries, hospital rooms and intravenous tubes.
The day before the shooting, De Alba Montes drove more than four hours to the El Paso airport and picked up his wife, Oliva, and their daughter, who had been visiting family in Denver. Early the next morning, they headed to Walmart to buy back-to-school supplies.
They were preparing to go to a nearby IHOP for breakfast when De Alba Montes heard the gunshots.
The three hid in a bank across from the registers with about a dozen others. As De Alba Montes shielded his family, a bullet came through his back. Other bullets hit his wife’s right thumb and one of her breasts, as well as their daughter’s leg.
When the gunman walked away, they looked up and faced a horrific scene. There was blood everywhere and everyone around them appeared to be dead.
“We picked ourselves up from among the dead,” De Alba Montes’ wife, Oliva Rodriguez Mariscal, recalled.
The family rushed outside as De Alba Montes was getting weaker by the minute. Soon, paramedics arrived.
He suffered several broken ribs and the bullet that came through his back damaged his stomach, his intestines and a renal artery.
While the father remained in the intensive care unit, his daughter was released within days. Doctors had to reconstruct one of Rodriguez Mariscal’s breasts and her right thumb.
Rodriguez Mariscal, an elementary teacher, spends her mornings visiting her husband at a long-term acute care hospital and her afternoons with their daughter, who is attending school in El Paso.
The pain won’t keep them from their faith
De Alba Montes smiles when he talks about his life in Chihuahua, where the three of them would eat out and then go watch a movie at the popular Fashion Mall Chihuahua on weekends.
In the past month, De Alba Montes started getting out of his bed with the help of nurses and taking a few steps with the walker. Now, he’s able to cover about 2,000 feet.
Under his yellow patterned hospital gown, the clear and white bandages protect the fistula in his abdomen that is keeping him under medical care until he can undergo surgery next year.
Skylier Blake, chief executive officer at El Paso Ltac Hospital, the facility where De Alba Montes is being treated, said multiple facilities and doctors have helped the family with medical expenses pro bono for the past months. In a few days, the father will be taken to a skilled nursing facility, Blake said.
From the small table next to his bed, De Alba Montes grabs a crossword book and multicolored pencil but more often than anything, he finds himself reaching for his Bible. Once a week, a relative comes and prays with him.
His wife, Rodriguez Mariscal, says their faith is stronger than ever despite the nightmare that shadows the family.
“I am convinced that God was with us that day. Neither human power nor anyone could have saved us, only God,” she said. “If someone does not believe in God, come look at us.”
“I know God will be with us until the end, because there’s a reason he let us live, he has a mission for us,” she added.
Mexican nationals don’t receive state aid
It’s unclear how long it will take before De Alba fully recovers and can go home.
While the state’s compensation programs are helping hundreds of victims with expenses not covered by insurance, the De Albas and other Mexican nationals are not eligible. Victims qualify for aid only if they are residents of Texas or any other state in the United States, according to state law.
This Walmart store is often the first stop for commuters from neighboring Ciudad Juárez, Mexico families, Fort Bliss families and longtime customers from nearby neighborhoods.
When asked about the De Alba family, a spokeswoman with the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the agency cannot comment on individual claims, but noted that the crime victims’ services division has approved 132 applications linked to the shooting and paid over $110,000 for “ambulance, medical, loss of wages, funeral, and travel costs.”
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez said he disagreed with the eligibility parameters of the fund, especially because the attack targeted people who appeared to be Mexican.
“We live and work on both sides of the border. Mexico is an essential partner for the Texas economy,” Rodriguez said. “It’s extremely disappointing this state has not found a way to extend needed and warranted support to those injured in the attack, which was aimed at people who appeared Mexican, whether or not they were citizens of the US.”
CNN reached out to the Mexican consulate in El Paso for comment.
Karr, with One Fund El Paso, said donations from the relief funds will be distributed to affected families and individuals from either side of the border.
They want to leave the tragedy behind
Calvillo, the coach who was shot five times, and his daughter drive twice a week to a field at the Pebble Hills High School in east El Paso. After they unload their large black bags full of soccer balls and orange hurdles, it’s all business.
Last year, Calvillo became the head coach when his predecessor moved across the city. He wanted to keep the girls together.
“We’re a family. It’s not a team. This is not making profit out of it. I don’t charge nothing,” said Calville, who was shot three times in the torso and two times in his left leg. “It’s a family that we have built. It’s a family that the girls have built.”
They had dreamed of having new uniforms and maybe playing at a soccer tournament in Arizona. The parents and their girls were holding their first ever fundraiser on August 3.
“I started feeling heat, like sparks jumping at me,” Calvillo’s wife, Marcela Martinez says of the beginning of the massacre. “That’s when I turned around and saw there was a man with a rifle shooting at us.”
Suddenly, a happy morning was turned into chaos.
“We were the first ones. We were his first target,” said Martinez. She was the only parent at the fundraiser who was not injured.
Calvillo spent about two months between University Medical Center and long-term medical facilities and just recently started physical therapy. Since he returned home, Calvillo has been focusing on his family, his team and putting the tragedy behind.
“It’s gonna be hard. It’s hard. Every day is hard. I’m not 100% right now. Not even a 50% right now, but trying to live my normal life,” he said.
He is confident his body will eventually heal, but the pain of losing his dad won’t go away easily.
“I don’t care what happens to me physically, my body will heal but mentally … My dad would not be back with me. He’s gone and he’s gone forever,” Calvillo said. “That is the part that it’s been very difficult to me that I don’t want to think about it yet.”
Calvillo and his wife are fully focused on his recovery and don’t want to take any of their time together for granted. They were given a second chance at life, they said, and they want to make the best of it.
A couple of hours before practice, Calvillo sat at their dinner table with a black T-shirt that says El Paso Strong over a map of Texas with a heart around El Paso. He is eating a couple Oreo cookies as Marcela cooks dinner and his daughter eats a bowl of soup. They are together again at their home, and far from a hospital room.