Funeral director Salvador Perches didn’t know what to do with more than 1,000 floral arrangements that were delivered from as far as France and Australia to honor Margie Reckard, whose husband invited strangers to mourn her.
She was the last to be memorialized of 22 people who were killed when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on August 3.
“We were just overwhelmed,” said Perches, whose funeral home handled Reckard’s service last week at La Paz Faith Memorial and Spiritual Center. Hundreds waited in nearly 100-degree heat to mourn the 63-year-old.
Perches reached out to other area funeral homes to organize 22 hearses — one for each person killed — to deliver flowers to the makeshift memorial at Walmart, which has become a place to mourn and remember. One final procession.
On Sunday, the hearses left La Paz and followed a police escort for the five mile procession to the memorial.
There were so many flowers at La Paz that it took nearly an hour for about 100 volunteers to load the hearses.
Angel Gomez, the founder of an El Paso non-profit that helped coordinate funerals, and his 8-year-old grandson were among the volunteers.
“Did all these people die?,” the boy asked.
No, Gomez said. The flowers were for one person, and she wanted to share them with other 21 who were killed, he said.
Perches drove the lead hearse from Juarez.
“When I made the first turn, the never ending turns of each hearse was quite something in my mirror,”Perches said. “…This was a statement to show we lost 22 lives in two minutes because of so many things that are wrong in our system.”
Cars stopped in both directions as the 22 hearses passed. People captured the moment on cell phones. Some held small American flags and removed their hats.
“I just got chills,” Sunset Funeral Homes Director Christopher Lujan told CNN in an interview. “Seeing 22 hearses is just unbelievable.”
‘The next chapter is healing’
Lujan said the procession was symbolic to “help with healing now.”
“It’s just amazing how this community has come together,” he said.
Pictures on the Perches Funeral Homes Facebook page showed two lines of hearses parked at the memorial site.
The makeshift memorial at Walmart sprang up a day after the shooting. People have gathered to pray and sing amid the candles, rosaries and white crosses with handwritten names of the dead.
Funeral directors invited mourners at the memorial site to unload the arrangements. They took the flowers and arranged them around the crosses, said Gomez, who runs the social services non-profit Operation H.O.P.E.
“Everybody wanted to participate in one way or another,” he said.
Gomez’s SUV was the last vehicle in the procession, which symbolized the end of one chapter, he said.
“The next chapter is healing,” he said, “and El Paso needs to rise.”