Our flight from Midland to Dallas was indefinitely delayed last night, so I wrote this from the passenger seat of our Dodge Grand Caravan as we made the 4+ hour drive.
We left El Paso early Monday morning, still thinking about the beautiful Khalid concert from the night before. He raised $500,000 for families suffering from the August 3rd shooting, and put on a great show for a community that’s still hurting after an attack that killed 22 people and injured dozens more.
We got to Odessa after about four hours on the road, picked up donuts and coffee and brought them to Medical Center Hospital where we got to meet with the amazing nurses and doctors and frontline staff. They were positive, professional and totally focused on making sure that their patients received the best care. We talked about what it was like on Saturday when the first patients came in, the severity of the wounds they treated, the way they came together as a team.
We met with some of the survivors of the shooting. One police officer had been shot in the hand. When I asked him and his wife what we could do for them, they told us that there were so many others hurt much worse and that they would be fine. I thanked him and the other officers in the room for their service and what they did to protect the lives of so many others — on Saturday and every day.
In the next room was a man who warmly greeted me in Spanish, and told me his story. He’s a legal permanent resident who has been driving 18-wheelers for the last 24 years. He was just passing through Odessa when he was shot in the leg. A gnarly wound, big metal pins holding his bone together. He was about to go into surgery and said he hoped he’d be able to use his leg again. We said we’d be thinking about him, and got his phone number to follow up.
The last family we met lost their 15 year-old daughter. She bled to death in front of them after being shot on Saturday. Their son was recovering from wounds he’d suffered while trying to shield his sister. There was nothing we could say, but we did our best. They are strong, but this is almost too much.
How can they explain this to each other, to us?
How do we explain this to them, to ourselves?
A man stopped me on the street outside the hospital. He said, “I appreciate you coming to Odessa and being here for the community. I don’t agree with your politics, but I’m grateful you took the time to come out here.”
I drove over to a Labor Day lunch that had turned into a memorial for a postal worker, Mary Granados, who had been killed Saturday.
I walked in the door and was met by a woman who had just lost her brother. The killer had driven up next to his truck, and had murdered him in front of his wife and children. Her brother’s last words were, “I’m hit.”
She was crying and shaking as she told me. She said, “I’m so angry. I’m just so angry.” Her brother had been a teacher, made a huge difference for a lot of kids. In fact, one of his former students had recently gotten in touch with him to tell him that. She said it made his day. Now he was gone. His family was hurting so much, she was hurting so much. She couldn’t stop crying or shaking.
We exchanged numbers, and promised to keep in touch. I told her that there are millions of us who are with her and her family and the victims from the shooting on Saturday. Millions of us who want this to stop and will do everything in our power to make it stop.
I drove over to Midland to spend some time at the hospital there, getting a chance to thank many of the nurses and support staff. One nurse told me she was having a hard time holding it together after everything she’s seen. “I’m fine at work,” she said, “but when I get back to the house, I just lose it.” She said she’s going to seek counseling to make sure she’s at her best for her patients and her family.
Another nurse said, “I’m sorry, but you just shouldn’t have an AR-15. No one needs them to hunt, you don’t need it for your home.” This is coming from a woman who just treated people with wounds of war. The high impact, high velocity round from the AR-15 used on Saturday tumbled through their bodies, expending its kinetic energy inside their organs and shredding their soft tissue.
My last stop was on the campus of UT Permian Basin back in Odessa.
There’d been a service for the shooting victims there the night before and I thought it would be nice if we stopped there to pay our respects.
Messages of hope and defiance and love were written in colorful chalk on the quad.
As we were taking it in, a young woman walked by and said, “Beto!”
It was Anavelee. She’d been in lockdown during the shooting and she wanted to tell me her story.
We sat down on a bench facing the fountain and I listened.
“I was at work in the mall when I got the emergency text that there was an active shooter. I got chills. ‘This is happening,’ I thought. This is the end.”
She told me she wondered if she’d see her mom again, whether she’d see her grandma again. She was preparing to die in a shooting that thankfully spared her life, but took the lives of seven others.
I asked her how she felt now.
“I feel angry. But I was already angry. From all of these mass shootings, from what happened at the high school in Parkland, Florida. I was angry that high school kids were being killed when I was in high school and no one was doing anything about it. Then I learned about March for Our Lives. That movement has been very influential to me.”
She told me that it’s hard for her to go out. She didn’t go to last night’s vigil. Just doesn’t feel safe right now. Her birthday is coming up but she doesn’t plan to celebrate. It doesn’t feel right.
I asked her about the future. She wants to run for office some day. She wants our politics to work — and she wants to do what she can to make it work. What we’re doing now is clearly not working.
In fact, she told me that when she was in the lockdown at work, with the shooter nearby, she tweeted on her private account to her friends: “If I die, politicize my death.”
I shared with her what it’s been like since the shooting in El Paso — the way the community has come together, the support everyone is showing for the families more than a month later. I told her how impressed I was by everyone I met, how it should give us hope for the community’s ability to heal, for her ability to heal. I promised I’d stay in touch.
I wanted her to feel some hope and to know it would get better. But the truth is, we haven’t given her a lot of reason to believe that’s true. Anavelee knows what’s going on in this country. How we’ve responded to previous shootings, and what’s likely to happen after this one.
I don’t want her to accept that nothing’s going to change.
I don’t want her to give up or give in.
Like everyone I met in Odessa and Midland, I was impressed by her strength, her kindness and grace. I was inspired by her raw honesty and desire for real, no-bullshit answers to the questions she has about her future and this country.
I hope that we are worthy of her.
If you’re wondering what you can do today to help those impacted by Saturday’s shooting, click here to make a donation.