Hundreds of Strangers Mourn With El Paso Widower, After Open Invitation to His Wife’s Funeral

Hundreds of Strangers Mourn With El Paso Widower, After Open Invitation to His Wife’s Funeral

EL PASO — Just about every morning for the past two weeks, Antonio Basco has risen before dawn to buy as many floral bouquets as he can fit in his car and carried them to a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso.

He places the flowers one by one around the white wooden cross for Margie Reckard, his wife. This is his solemn ritual, born of grief and unmooring: tending Margie’s garden.

“She loved any kind of flowers. I could walk down the street and find flowers that had been run over a thousand times and she would think it looked like a million dollars,” Mr. Basco said on Friday morning.

Hour later, the La Paz Faith Memorial and Spiritual Center in El Paso would be spilling over with bouquets, as hundreds of strangers came to pay their respects to Ms. Reckard at her visitation and prayer service.

And crowds filled the center to capacity. Hundreds stood in a line snaking around the church and on the blocks beyond.

“This is amazing,” Mr. Basco said as he walked down the center aisle, surveying the unfamiliar faces.

“You took a stranger off the street,” he added, and showed him love.

Victor and Mary Perales, of El Paso, said they had come to support Mr. Basco because they knew something about sudden loss: Their oldest son died unexpectedly two years ago. Mr. Perales wrote a letter to give to Mr. Basco offering his condolences, but also offering friendship.

“We know how hard it was for us and we were surrounded by family. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to go through this alone,” said Mr. Perales, 72, a retired truck driver. “I said we are going to this funeral to give him a hug and let him know we can be his family.”

The moment Alicia Solomon Click heard about Mr. Basco, she knew she was taking a road trip. The professional singer drove six hours from Sante Fe, N.M., and had stood for two hours in the visitation line. “I am here to tell Mr. Basco for every crazy nut there are thousands of us that love him,” said Ms. Solomon Click, 61.

For part of the service, a Mariachi band played as Mr. Basco and Ms. Reckard’s relatives greeted and hugged guests. Mr. Basco met some of his wife’s relatives for the first time. When a performer began singing “Amor Eterno,” or Love Eternal, much of the church sang along.

“This was an assault on all of us,” Fred Valle, 44, said of the shooting. “You don’t have to know him to feel for him.”

Bishop Harrison Johnson, a Perches funeral director, delivered the eulogy. Before he began, he looked out into the standing-room-only sanctuary and turned to Mr. Basco. “Look at all the friends you have now,” Bishop Johnson said, to thunderous applause.

He preached from Matthew 14:22. Faith will get you through anything, he assured the crowd, even something as evil as the Walmart massacre. He talked about a united El Paso that was not defined or divided by color — a direct answer to a racist attack.

“Whatever you do, do not stop walking through the storm,” Bishop Johnson said. “Don’t stop because you will walk out of the storm.”

Mr. Basco and Ms. Reckard met more than two decades ago at a bar in Nebraska. He was immediately smitten.

“I took one look at her eyes and it was over with,” Mr. Basco said before the service on Friday, tears welling.

They settled in El Paso about nine years ago, although their hobby was visiting places by train. Ms. Reckard, who was a grocery store cashier in Nebraska, had several health issues, including Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Basco worked at a rodeo at one point but now runs a carwash business. He was outside fixing his truck when Ms. Reckard left for Walmart that Saturday morning.

“She was a lady,” he said, “and she was the love of my life.”

Mr. Basco said that when he wants to feel closest to his wife, he heads to the makeshift memorial and talks to her. Sometimes he returns at night and sleeps next to the cross, hardly visible among the piles of flowers and mementos.

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