KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Grief And Remembrance, 2 Years After Mass Shootings In El Paso And Dayton

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We're going to take some time now to remember a tragic weekend two years ago, 2019. And a warning - this story may be disturbing to some listeners. First, came Saturday, August 3.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Panic in El Paso this morning when a day of shopping...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let's go. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: ...Turned into horror with an active shooter on the loose.

KELLY: A 21-year-old man opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Twenty-three people ultimately died in the shooting, which targeted Latinos. The alleged gunman wrote in a post online that he wanted to stop, quote, "the Hispanic invasion of the state." The next day, Sunday, August 4.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Let's go to Dayton, Ohio, now, where the second mass shooting in the United States has occurred in just 13 hours - nine people killed there.

KELLY: A 24-year-old man opened fire in a historic district of Dayton. His sister was among the victims. Well, we wanted to know what the past two years have been like for survivors and their families, how their communities are coping. Here with us is Pastor Michael Grady in El Paso. His 35-year-old daughter, Michelle, was injured in the shooting.

Pastor Grady, welcome. Thank you for being with us.

MICHAEL GRADY: Thank you for inviting me. Thank you so much.

KELLY: And Dion Green, who's with us from Dayton, Ohio. Today, he is remembering his father, Derrick Fudge, who died beside him that evening.

Dion Green, thank you so much for being with us.

DION GREEN: Thank you for allowing me to be here to share my heart.

KELLY: Well, I want to start with you, Dion. You were not injured that night. Your father was, and he died. And I will start by saying I'm so, so sorry. I imagine these last two years, some days have been better than others but that none of them have been easy.

GREEN: You're right. You know, some days, I can make it through. Some days, I feel like I have no energy. But, you know, for him protecting my life that night and allowing me to continue living, that's what gives me the strength to do what I've been doing around the country and fighting and being the voice for the voiceless and honoring each and every one of these family members.

KELLY: Yeah. How did he protect your life?

GREEN: You know, he - when the shooter came out, me and my dad were standing side by side. When I thought my father only got shot once, it was really five times, and I don't understand how not one of them bullets did not touch me. And it's something I still play back over and over again - how did I not get shot? How did I not die?

KELLY: Yeah. How has - I mean, it sounds like, obviously, this has changed your family forever. How about your community? How has Dayton changed since the massacre in response to it?

GREEN: Well, you know, to be honest, even though this is the second-year anniversary, this is really the first year for the community because last year was a blur, you know. We couldn't be around each other, you know, due to COVID. So the families didn't really get to experience the love from the community. So today, I'm having an event out here to remember the nine lives for the community, for the family members to lean on each other, to cry, to love, to uplift and share what's on your heart. So I hope today to be a powerful day. It's going to be an emotional day. But, also, I want to bring joy and sunshine to our community.

KELLY: Pastor Michael Grady, what about you? I mentioned your daughter, Michelle. She was shot three times. She survived. How is she doing?

GRADY: Michelle is still recuperating. The emotional and psychological trauma still affects her. Some days are better than others because of the devastation that the bullets did, but she's strong and vibrant. And she may have to have another surgery, but we're praying that that will not be the case. But she's on a road to recovery still.

GREEN: Amen.

KELLY: And a question for each of you. When you speak to your family members, when you speak to friends about the day of the shooting, do you talk about the why? You know, the - why did this happen? How could this have happened?

Dion Green, I'll throw that to you first.

GREEN: You know, just going through it and seeing - there was a lot of telltale signs for our situation (unintelligible) that I really feel that this could have been prevented. But - I don't know. Right now, my heart is everywhere. I'm shaking. I really can't speak right now. I'm so sorry.

KELLY: I'm so sorry. And you take all the time you need.

Pastor Grady, how about you? When you and your daughter talk about that day, do you talk about the why? And, I guess, I'm thinking in part, as we mentioned, the shooter saying he was there to target Latino people.

GRADY: Yes. We talk about the why all the time. You know, so when I mentioned in the early days, and even these days, that my daughter Michelle was shot three times, people sometimes comment, I thought he came here to kill Mexicans. And, of course, Michelle certainly is not a Mexican or of Spanish descent; she's African American. And so we talk about the why. We talk about the rhetoric that was happening during the time. I sort of blamed the rhetoric that came out of the highest levels of leadership in the nation to sort of give this gunman an understanding in his own mind that he was sort of doing the bidding of the administration as it was in those days.

KELLY: Before I let you go, anything you two would like to say to each other?

GREEN: My heart goes out to you and your family and to all of the loved ones that lost their loved ones. Today is a rough day for me. You know, I'm usually not shaking as I am, but I'm speaking to you in front of the area where my dad got killed because I just placed the flowers here. And I do it every year, and I don't leave because if I leave, I won't come back. So I sit here for the whole day until the event starts. But I just want to send my love and condolence. And I'm here in any support. And it sucks what happened that night, but it brought the best out of me because I continue to fight for survivors, you know, to help them regain who they are, to speak, let it out because we are stronger together, and we have to keep sharing our stories till it hits the desks and creates change. And I just continue, like, we stay strong, and please keep doing what you're doing. And I just hope the families take the time they need to keep healing.

GRADY: Hey, man, thank you. And, Dion, again, my heart goes out to you and to your family and to those in Ohio who are experiencing the pain of loss. You know, we keep saying that the people that were victims were lost. They were taken. Murder is about taking. This individual got on the road. He could've turned around at any point, but his hatred drove him to the city by the Rio Grande. So my prayer, Dion, is that you would continue to keep your head up, know that change requires commitment, and because you are committed, we can only affect change. The last part of the Serenity Prayer says, and the things I cannot change. But there are so many things that we can change, that we can get people excited about touching, then coming together in unity. I believe, as the early church said in those days, they turned the world upside down. And so it's going to take the courage and the competence, the commitment and the consistency to not allow this to define you or to define your community, as we in El Paso, we have not allowed it to define us. One people, one struggle - so we continue to struggle together until change takes place.

KELLY: Pastor Michael Grady in El Paso, Texas, and Dion Green in Dayton, Ohio, talking about shootings in their cities that upended their lives and ended other people's lives two years ago.

Thank you to you both.

GRADY: Thank you so much for having us.

GREEN: Thank you.

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KELLY: A final note - Dion Green and Michael Grady had never met or spoken before we asked them to talk to us. After we ended our conversation, they stayed on the line, exchanged phone numbers and promised to talk again before the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OCTOPUS PROJECT'S "BALTIMORE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.