AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Tribune) – More than 110 people stood in line outside the Texas Capitol on Monday to donate blood to honor victims of the recent mass shooting in El Paso.
On Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 and injuring dozens more. Less than 24 hours later in Dayton, Ohio, another gunman killed nine people in the city’s entertainment district. The back-to-back mass shootings have left many across the country reeling and looking for ways to show support and take action.
Walmart and AT&T organized the event in coordination with the Austin-based group We Are Blood. By early Monday morning, all available appointments, about 24, had been booked, and throughout the day, dozens of others lined up on the sidewalk for walk-in appointments. The crowds were so large that the organizers brought in a second mobile donation site to handle the demand.
Lizette Melendez, 27, was one of nearly 60 people in line around lunchtime Monday. Melendez moved to Austin to attend college, but most of her family is still in El Paso. Donating blood was one of the ways she felt she could be closer to her hometown.
“That Walmart, it’s a big hub for us. I spent my weekends there,” Melendez told The Texas Tribune. “I feel so far away right now. I almost feel guilty for not being there with my family.”
Soon after the massacre, authorities determined the shooter was a 21-year-old white man from the Dallas area, who may have been motivated by a hatred of Hispanic people, according to a manifesto he allegedly posted online shortly before the killings.
For Melendez and her family, it’s been a struggle to cope with that reality.
“They’re all in shock still somewhat, trying figuring out why. Why them? Why did this guy drive nine hours for us?” Melendez said. “It’s hard to think that it’s because of the color of your skin. I know we’ve seen this so many times, but it’s difficult to grasp when it’s targeted that way.”
Mariana Castaneda, a 23-year-old who came to Austin last year to get her doctorate in mechanical engineering, also has family in El Paso. She said she was acquaintances with a young mother who was killed along with her husband in the shooting.
“This is something that hits right at home for me,” Castaneda said. “I’m not able to be with my family right now because I’m here, and if this is the best way for me to help them, I’m going to help.”
The blood drive in Austin on Monday was the latest effort from Texans and people across the country to show support for the victims of the weekend’s mass shootings. Nick Canedo, vice president of community engagement for We Are Blood, said the organization is seeing an uptick in donations at its three Austin locations.
“I think the Central Texas community is just showing their support for tragedies,” Canedo said. “They just want to do something to show their support for those communities.”
As of Monday, neither El Paso nor Dayton had requested blood, Canedo said. Donations are being taken in anticipation of need from those cities and as a symbolic way for Texans to honor the victims.
“It just hurts people when these terrible things happen, and we want to be able to do something,” said Leslie Ward, president of AT&T Texas. “So when El Paso is hurting, we thought it was important that everyone at the Capitol have a great way to come out and show their support for our colleagues who are hurting.”