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El Pasoans 'Will Not Let This Define Us,' Mayor Insists


I want to turn now to the mayor of this grieving city. Dee Margo has been the mayor of El Paso for two years after serving in the Texas House of Representatives and joins us on the line. Mayor, I know how busy you are. We're all thinking about your community right now, and thank you for taking a few minutes for us.


GREENE: How have you been spending your time since the tragedy? Who have you been speaking with and what can you tell us to give us some sense of understanding of what this community is going through?

MARGO: Well, first of all, we've had the briefings from our - at our Fusion Center, which is where the police and our Office of Emergency Management monitors things. So I've had the full briefing on this particular individual who, in my estimation, is nothing but pure evil. And, you know - and his missive is diatribe related to hate. Where we will - I've said on a number of occasions - I was at the interfaith service last night. I was at the hospital yesterday. I met the 2-1/2-month-old little boy who lost his mother protecting him and I understand later has also lost his father.

This is a tragedy that's just totally unnecessary. It will not define El Paso. We are a unique region. People cannot understand what our region is like until they come here. And we've been one region - binational, bicultural - for 350 years, 100 years before the United States was even formed. And we're at the - we're a region of 2 1/2 million people, and we are not going to let this define us.

GREENE: Where does the investigation stand as of this morning, if you could update us?

MARGO: Well, the briefing I had - the last briefing I had was yesterday afternoon. Federal - the attorney general's office is going to file hate crimes against him, which also is subject to the death penalty. And in Texas, we're going to file capital murder charges against him, which is subject to the death penalty as well. I think he's a coward, and as I said a minute ago, he's pure evil. It would never - I have - I do not believe this perpetrator would have ever originated in El Paso. It's not us. It's not our culture. It's not our nature.

And it's just a tragedy that we will recover from. But I'm not sure we're going to finish or actually really start the recovery until we get through the 20 funerals we know we're going to have to go through in the next couple of weeks.

GREENE: How do you even prepare for that - 20 funerals that I'm sure you'll be trying to attend as many as you can?

MARGO: I don't know. This is something that I don't believe any mayor could ever prepare for. I don't think that there's a handbook for that, irrespective of the incidents that have occurred in the past. I certainly wasn't prepared for that. I'm prepared for other things.

Thank goodness our police department was prepared for active shooters. I mean, they got their call at 5:30 - at 10:39 in the morning. They were there at 10:45, and at 11:06, he was apprehended. We are one of the safest cities in the nation. We will remain one of the safest cities in the nation. We will not let this stop us. And as I said, it will not define it. We are a unique, unique region, and we will continue and persevere.

GREENE: This angry screed or manifesto that the attacker, you know, supposedly posted on online said, among other things, that his actions were a response to an invasion of Texas by Hispanic immigrants. The hate in that document - how surprised are you? Did you know that this kind of hate is out there?

MARGO: Oh, I probably subliminally knew it, but no, I've not been confronted by it. I did read his diatribe, hate-filled missive. He is - it's - I don't - you know, I can't put my arms around it. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a psychiatrist. I don't know what's driving that, but it's not what El Paso is about. Yeah, we're 84% or 85% Hispanic, but we're probably - people cannot get over how friendly and how family-oriented we are as a region. And, I mean, as I said, we're a region of 2 1/2 million people, and our average age is 32.

GREENE: Do you think he deserves the death penalty if there's a trial that happens and it leads that way?

MARGO: I would say, at this juncture, he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And if that is the end result, so be it.

GREENE: We also spoke with the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, this morning. I mean, it's stunning that another mayor in another city is going through a mass shooting this weekend. She said it's time for people in Washington to take action on gun control. How do you respond to that?

MARGO: Well, it's apparent something's got to be done. Nan is one of my - is a good friend of mine. We both talked yesterday morning. She had sent me condolences, and I called her up and said, wait a minute - I need to offer you the same. And I'm sorry that we're both caught up in this together and identified as such. But, you know, it's - there's a whole lot to our - to what's going on in America at this time. And we've got to - we're going to have to deal with it at all levels, from our families on up.

GREENE: Dee Margo is the mayor of El Paso, Texas, a city recovering from a massacre over the weekend at Walmart. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much, and we're all thinking about your city.

MARGO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.