EL PASO, Texas -- Mayor Dee Margo was out of town when the Aug. 3, 2019 tragedy unfolded.
He made it a point to get back to El Paso, and has since made it his mission to make sure that tragedy doesn't define the city.
ABC-7 sat down with the mayor to look back on that tragic day from his perspective.
Margo recalled feeling helpless as conflicting news reports from the Cielo Vista Walmart trickled in that morning.
“I started getting 911 texts. The first said there was a shooting, they came back and said no one was harmed. Next thing you know that's not the case. Got to where they said multiple shooters, on and on and on,” he said.
Margo indicated he felt helpless as further details trickled in. He was in Austin when he got the first 911 text, and immediately headed back to El Paso.
“I boarded the plane and for an hour and a half, I couldn't do anything but pray,” he explained, visibly shaken by reliving the moment. “There was no internet, no connection, so I just sat there and prayed and looked out the window.”
The coming days and hours were a blur of emotional events for the mayor.
Among the dignitaries who immediately flew to ground zero were Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who joined the mayor to give blood.
“The line was so long,” he remembered. “Here we are in the hot August sun and the line was all the way out around the building and after people gave, they announced it and people cheered. I thought to myself, this is El Paso.”
He continued, “You go from hospital to volunteers giving blood, waiting hours in the sun because they care about what happened. That was who we are as a community and the contrast between the death and giving life.”
In the following days, weeks and even months to come, Margo was doing interviews with reporters and news outlets from across the country. He said he heard the same thing, over and over.
“They would say before or after interview that they couldn't believe the warm reception they received,” he recalled.
“That's why I said we are going to overcome hate. I've said from day one this will not be a defining moment in our history. It will be part of our history, but I want to relegate it to an asterisk footnote,” he added.
The mayor said he attended every funeral in El Paso.
“The families were tremendous. I greeted all the families. I didn't make the ones in Juarez, but people need to understand that nine were from Juarez. That's something I don't think people understand,” Margo explained, adding: “When we finished the funerals I said, ‘I don't want to do that again.”
Symbols of resilience hang on his office walls in City Hall – including handmade quilts, a gift he was given as a reminder that we are ‘El Paso Strong.’ And he said he appreciates other reminders of the importance of Aug. 3.
“I think Walmart did a great job on the Candela. After seeing all those candles at all those funerals, I thought that was a great monument for the victims and their families. It's us. It's who we are. We have a strong spiritual foundation here and that's going to keep us going regardless,” he indicated.
Moving forward, Margo says the El Paso community need only look back on its history.
“We talk about resilience, but we're survivalists. We've survived a whole lot here over our history of hundreds of years and it's embedded into our DNA and culture one day at a time,” he observed. “The sun rises and we get through it. Not individually, but together.”
The mayor concluded, “we need to be reminded that this did not destroy us, it will make us stronger. And we're going to show the world.”