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El Paso opens grief centre ahead of Trump visit

The centre opened a day before Donald Trump was due to visit the border city, much to the chagrin of some Democrats and other residents.

Fundraising El Paso Strong t-shirts in Texas (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)
Fundraising El Paso Strong t-shirts in Texas (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)

A grief centre has opened in El Paso, Texas, to help people cope with the effects of a mass shooting in the area.

The incident at a Walmart store killed 22 people – nearly all with Latino last names – and injured many more.

The centre opened a day before US President Donald Trump was due to visit the border city, much to the chagrin of some Democrats and other residents who say his fiery rhetoric has fostered the kind of anti-immigrant hatred that may have motivated the attack.

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Donald Trump is due to visit El Paso (AP/Evan Vucci)

El Paso’s police chief, Greg Allen, said investigators believe the suspected gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, posted an anti-immigrant screed that appeared online shortly before the attack.

Crusius is being held on capital murder charges, though federal prosecutors are also considering charging Crusius with hate crimes.

Within hours of the grief centre opening, Democratic congresswoman Veronica Escobar said victims’ families were already inside, where services included counselling, travel assistance and financial support.

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A makeshift memorial near the scene of the mass shooting in El Paso (AP/John Locher)

“We’ve got to make sure that folks have access to mental health care. There’s going to be a lot of trauma in our community, a lot of children saw things that no human being should see. And so we’re going to do everything possible,” said Ms Escobar, who is from El Paso.

Mr Trump is also expected to visit Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday where another gunman killed nine people and wounded many others in an attack only hours after the El Paso mass shooting. White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway recounted visits Mr Trump has made to grieving communities after mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Las Vegas.

“He goes, trying to help heal communities, meeting with those who are injured, those loved ones who have survived, the innocents who have lost their lives so senselessly and tragically,” she said.

El Paso’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, announced Mr Trump’s visit at a news conference Monday.

Mr Margo has previously criticised Mr Trump for suggesting that El Paso, which had fewer homicides in all of 2017 than the death toll in Saturday’s attack, was a dangerous and unsafe place.

“This is not a political visit as he had before, and he is president of the United States,” Mr Margo said, referring to a campaign rally Mr Trump held in February.

“So in that capacity, I will fulfil my obligations as mayor of El Paso to be with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community and hope that if we are expressing specifics, that we can get him to come through for us.”

Ms Escobar and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who was a congressman for six years, both said Mr Trump would not be welcome in their hometown of El Paso.

Mr O’Rourke tweeted: “This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”

The screed that was posted online before the attack rails against an influx of Hispanics into the United States, saying they will replace ageing white voters and could swing Texas and the White House to the Democrats.

PA

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