EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Leaders from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border gathered in El Paso Wednesday night to memorialize the 22 people killed this month when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in the Texas border city.
Thousands of people streamed into the baseball stadium in downtown El Paso with a capacity of 10,000. With some sections blocked off it could hold 8,000 people Wednesday.
Nine circles and 22 stars formed by luminarias — traditional lanterns made from paper bags, sand, and LED lights — adorned the field in honor of the nine people killed in the Dayton, Ohio, mass shooting and the El Paso shooting victims.
The ceremony at Southwest University Park officially commemorated those killed in the largely Latino city by a gunman who police say confessed to driving from the Dallas area to target Mexicans. Most of the dead had Hispanic last names, and eight were Mexican nationals. Nearly two dozen others were injured.
Before the commemoration began Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that the state is adding manpower to gang investigations of white nationalist groups in the wake of the shooting. He also said Texas will create a new domestic terrorism unit to help “root out the extremist ideologies that fuel hatred and violence in our state.”
Abbott and the governor of the neighboring Mexican state, Javier Corral, were expected to speak along with the mayors of El Paso and the neighboring Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez.
Before Wednesday, the city had opened a center to help people with everything from counseling and financial assistance to figuring out how to get vehicles back after the Aug. 3 shooting.
The victims’ loved ones have been marking their passing with vigils and funerals in the U.S. and Mexico since the Aug. 3 massacre.
Authorities said Wednesday they have finished processing the scene at Walmart for evidence. El Paso police said they are returning control of the property to Walmart.
Walmart spokeswoman LeMia Jenkins said the store remains a “secure location with controlled access.” She said a fence will remain around the store’s perimeter and that Walmart is using contracted security guards to prevent trespassing. The company did not say when the store would reopen.
Patrick Crusius, 21, is charged with capital murder in the 22 deaths. An online rant investigators have attributed to him speaks of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and theories of non-white immigrants replacing whites.
El Paso has long been an important city in Mexican American culture and immigration . It served as a port of entry where immigrants from the interior of Mexico had to come to gain entry into the United States before World War II and is sometimes called the “Ellis Island” of the border.
The city has garnered attention in the last year because of the rapid rise of Central American migrants coming to seek asylum.
On Wednesday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he wants the United States to extradite Crusius so that he can also be tried in Mexico.
The two countries have had an arrangement in which a suspect convicted in one country can be immediately extradited for trial in the other, before serving his sentence in either country.
Bleiberg reported in Dallas. Associated Press writers Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.