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Widower’s death extends mourning tied to El Paso massacre

August 28, 2021 GMT
Jose Luis Ozuna and his wife Leticia Bernal attend the funeral of their friend Antonio Basco in El Paso, Texas, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Basco, who drew worldwide sympathy and support after his wife for 22 years, Margie Reckard, was killed in the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, died on Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
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Jose Luis Ozuna and his wife Leticia Bernal attend the funeral of their friend Antonio Basco in El Paso, Texas, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Basco, who drew worldwide sympathy and support after his wife for 22 years, Margie Reckard, was killed in the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, died on Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
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Jose Luis Ozuna and his wife Leticia Bernal attend the funeral of their friend Antonio Basco in El Paso, Texas, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Basco, who drew worldwide sympathy and support after his wife for 22 years, Margie Reckard, was killed in the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, died on Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A man who gained worldwide sympathy and support after his wife was killed in a mass shooting in the Texas border city of El Paso was remembered Friday as kind and thoughtful — and haunted by the loss of the woman he loved.

A few dozen people attended the memorial services for Antonio Basco, 63, who died Aug. 14 , just over two years after his wife, Margie Reckard, was fatally shot along with 22 other people by a lone gunman who authorities say targeted Latinos in an attack that stunned the U.S. and Mexico.

Reckard’s August 2019 funeral drew thousands of people from as far away as Arizona and California and across the border in Mexico, after Basco announced that he was alone with almost no family left and invited the world to join him in remembering his companion of 22 years. Few in attendance had ever met Reckard.

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Flowers poured in, and an SUV was donated to Basco, who made a modest living at washing cars and other odd jobs. The day of his wife’s funeral, a crowd of strangers stood in a line that wrapped around the block to pay their respects.

Basco — a wiry, weathered man — embraced one visitor after another with open arms for several hours.

It was a raw and loving outpouring of emotion at the 22nd funeral following the attack. A final victim would die of his injuries nine months later.

Friday’s funeral amid a resurgent pandemic drew a trickle of visitors to a cavernous chapel. They included a hospice worker who cared for Basco in his final days and a retired Army veteran who liked Basco without ever meeting him.

Several were linked to Basco through the tragedy of his wife’s death.

Jose Luis Ozuna, a local retiree, said he and his wife met Basco at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019, shooting and that Basco made an impression. Ozuna said Basco always put others ahead of himself.

So the last time Ozuna saw Basco, who was in tears as he struggled to cash a $300 check without an ID, Ozuna said he cosigned the withdrawal.

“We had a real good bond. He was a very loving kind of person,” Ozuna said. “We lost track of him because he lost his phone.”

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Adria Gonzalez, an El Paso native who was inside the Walmart during the attack, said she saw Basco deteriorate mentally and physically in the months after his wife’s funeral, amid struggles with alcohol.

Basco was arrested and jailed in late 2019 for driving under the influence.

“He said he missed his wife,” Gonzalez said, “and he wasn’t the same.”

Judith Quinones, the hospice worker, said Basco was visited regularly by friends as his health failed but he couldn’t get over the loneliness he felt without his wife.

“He wished his wife wasn’t dead. He didn’t want to die this way,” Quinones said.

Basco passed away after a months-long struggle with cancer after a late diagnosis, according to Roberto Sanchez, a local lawyer handling his estate.

Sanchez described Basco as a wanderer who was born and raised in Louisiana before he set out on an unmapped journey.

“I think I’d probably call him the Jack Kerouac of nowadays,” said Sanchez, referring to the beatnik author who wrote the classic road trip novel “On the Road.” “He would go from city to city looking for employment. When he found the love of his life, that’s when he made El Paso his home.”

Pastor Jackie Johnson called Basco a free spirit and belted out a spiritual: “There will be no more weeping and no more wailing.”

“He didn’t let anybody tell him how he could move or where he could move, but he was a free spirit who respected people,” Johnson said.

Basco lived to see the dedication of a permanent memorial to the 2019 shooting victims — a plaque and metal tower evoking a candle that stands outside the store where the attack occurred.

The man accused of carrying out the attack, Patrick Wood Crusius, faces state capital murder charges and more than 90 federal hate-crime and firearms counts.

The shooting happened on a busy weekend day at a Walmart that is typically popular with shoppers from Mexico and the U.S.

Authorities say Crusius aimed to scare Latinos into leaving the United States, driving from his home near Dallas to target Mexicans after posting a racist screed online. Crusius has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers said their client has been diagnosed with mental disabilities.

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This story was updated to correct the spelling of Adria Gonzalez’s first name.

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Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed from Dallas.