EL PASO — Minnie Grant stopped by the Walmart on Saturday with her son Chris Grant to grab snacks and meat for grilling for his three teenage children, who had come to El Paso for the first time in three years.
Minnie was in the back of the store near the milk aisle. Her basket was nearly full when she noticed shoppers and Walmart employees running. Someone shouted at her to get out, fast.
“I heard the gunshots as I was going out the door,” Minnie said.
The 82-year-old ran faster than she had run in years.
In the chaos, Minnie got separated from her son, who was closer to the front of the store. There, Chris, 50, threw soda bottles at the shooter to distract him, Minnie said. It was all he could do to fight back against the shooter, who authorities believe posted a racist screed online saying he wanted to end “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
The shooter then hit Chris, who is black, twice in the torso. The bullets hit his rib cage and kidney. He was sedated in the intensive care unit for two days. When he finally woke up, his mother said, what he struggled with most were his emotional wounds, the flashbacks to the bloodshed. He’s chilled by the image of a teenager who was shot in the head, she said.
“He opens up and talks about it. How unfair it was and how he’s not supposed to be here,” she said.
Ed Hromatka, Chris’ former father-in-law and grandfather to his children, said he doesn’t know how or why Chris thought to throw the soda bottles.
“Insane. How can a person possibly go after a guy with an AK-47 with soft drinks?” Hromatka asked.
But, Hromatka said, Chris “does have a strong sense of justice.”
During the massacre, Minnie’s grandchildren were in the air on the flight to El Paso from Dallas.
After his divorce about three years ago, Chris and Minnie often went to the Dallas area to visit the kids, who live in Plano. This time, the kids planned to come out to the border town for a week.
The children had no clue what was happening on the ground in El Paso. When they arrived at the airport, their father and grandmother weren’t there to meet them. Minnie had sent someone else, a friend who worked at Southwest Airlines.
After Minnie was safely outside Walmart, she wasn’t sure what had happened to her son. And she didn’t find out for hours.
Her daughter came by and picked her up. They rushed to the hospital to see if they could find him.
Chris had been taken to University Medical Center of El Paso — the only hospital in the area with a level one trauma center — about 2 miles away from the Walmart.
The family reunion happened there amid the panic of other families in the shooting that killed 22 and left about two dozen others injured.
They waited two days to finally talk to their dad. The lively, fun and active man they knew had been unconscious, hooked up to breathing tubes and wires.
Every day since the shooting, Minnie and the grandkids have visited the hospital. On Tuesday, she got there at 5 a.m.
Eight hours later, she was still there. The lobby was full of visitors, many speaking in Spanish, asking about their friends and family. Reporters hovered nearby with cameras and notepads for the chance to talk to discharged patients.
On the second floor of the intensive care unit, Minnie has befriended other families who have been struck by the tragedy. They’ve found comfort in being there with one another. She met one person who lost both of her parents. They were an older couple.
She can’t make sense of how a young man could kill so many people.
Minnie looked away and shook her head. Her voice cracked when she spoke. Her mind turned toward Luis Alfonzo Juarez, 90, one of those killed.
“Can you imagine shooting a 90-year-old man?”
And after the shooting altered her grandchildren’s lives, Minnie has been surprised by the strength they’ve displayed.
But as the days wear on, she’s worried about the long-term impact on her family.
“Things aren’t going to be the way we had hoped that they would be,” Minnie said.