2 El Paso dads saved soccer team kids, parents in chaotic aftermath of shootingAugust 5, 2019
When Jimmy Villatoro and Ray Garcia heard that gunfire had erupted at an El Paso Walmart, both fathers said they dropped everything they were doing, jumped in their cars and raced to the store.
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Villatoro and Garcia are among dozens of everyday people who turned into heroes when a gunman went on a rampage, killing 20 people and injuring 26 others in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
“Thankfully, God protected us to be able to get them out of the scene,” Villatoro told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Monday on “Good Morning America.”
Garcia and Villatoro, both wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “El Paso Strong” during their “GMA” appearance, are credited with saving several terrified children, mothers and a coach in the Saturday morning attack.
The attack was allegedly carried out by a 21-year-old man who, according to police, claimed he was out to kill as many Mexicans as he could in the U.S.-Mexico border town.
The men said they knew of friends who had set up a stand in front of that very Walmart to raise money selling limonadas and agua orchata drinks for a youth soccer program they are associated with.
Villatoro said he got word of the shooting from a father who was out of town and desperately worried about his wife and children at the fundraiser.
Garcia and Villatoro arrived at the scene at about the same time and immediately began looking for the kids and parents who had been working at the fundraising booth.
“I arrive at the scene. The cops were just getting there. I park my truck, run to the middle of the parking lot, looking for the kids because the father told me, ‘Find my family, find my kids,'” Villatoro said.
As he scoured the parking lot, he heard a group of children from his baseball team shout, “Coach! Coach!”
“They were hiding behind a vehicle,” Villatoro said. “They were low and they saw me. I pulled them out, it was four of them. I pulled them out, got them out of the scene, and then they kept asking for their parents.”
One frightened child pleaded with Villatoro, “Please get my parents out of there.” Another terrified child told him, “My mom’s been shot.” Still, another told him, “My dad’s been shot.”
Villatoro said that once he made sure the children were out of harm’s way, he went searching for their parents.
“I found one of the moms, and she just kept asking me, ‘Where are the kids? Get the kids,'” Villatoro said. “I told her, ‘The kids are safe, they’re already out of here, they’re in a safe location.’ I got her out.”
He said the woman had been shot in her legs, and ambulance crews were busy treating people who were gravely injured. He said a paramedic told him to get the woman in a private car and drive her to a hospital.
“A parent was there. They said, ‘I have a minivan.’ We loaded her up into the minivan,” Villatoro said.
He said he then searched for the mother another mom who had volunteered to work at the fundraiser. When he found her, she was wounded, too, he said.
“We got her into another vehicle to get her to the hospital because the ambulances were trying to get the most critical out of there as quick as possible,” Villatoro said.
When Garcia reached the scene, there was chaos everywhere, he said. People were running in all directions, sirens of approaching emergency vehicles were blaring and police were still searching for the gunman who fled the scene and would later be arrested several blocks away. Wounded people were sprawled on the ground outside the store.
“I approached the Walmart building, getting closer to where the fundraiser was at,” Garcia said on GMA. “Cops were telling me to back up. I told them I was looking for my kids. They let me go. I approached that building again and another cop told me to back up. I told him, ‘I’m looking for my kids.'”
He said he came upon Memo Garcia, his son’s baseball coach. Memo Garcia was seriously wounded, and an off-duty paramedic was performing first aid on him.
“I approached coach Memo, was talking to him. I was trying to keep him alert. There was an off-duty paramedic there putting pressure on [his wounds],” Ray Garcia said.
He said the off-duty paramedic asked him to take over applying pressure to the coach’s wounds so she could go help other wounded people around him.
Coach Memo was shot twice in the leg and once in the back, while his wife, Jessica, was shot three times in the leg, their relatives told reporters. Both survived.
Garcia said he never got the name of the off-duty paramedic who helped him save Memo Garcia’s life.
“I wish I knew who she was,” Garcia told the Dallas Morning News in a separate interview.
He said that before Coach Memo was taken to the hospital by ambulance, he was able to tell him, “We found the kids and got them away.”
Asked how he and Garcia had the courage to run to the Walmart to save lives, Villatoro, told the Morning News, “We didn’t think twice.”
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