In Washington, D.C., the Saturday morning outside seemed warm, bright and not so fraught with weather.
In Texas, in the border city of El Paso, the weather was scorchingly hot, but the local Walmart store was full of shoppers, many taking advantage of back-to-school sales.
And then, everything changed.
A singularly American type, the lone gunman, armed with a rapid-fire weapon, walked into the store and began firing, killing, in the end, 22 people — local shoppers, some visitors from Mexico, but mostly locals, men, women and children. The various sounds that automatic weapons create — the pop-pops, the boom, the terrifying Muzak of screams — resulted in 20 deaths that day, with two more succumbing to their wounds later, and more than two dozen wounded. There was panic in the shopping mall, and the arrival of a host of military and law enforcement types with full weaponry.
The news came out in trickles, with a few names here and there, accompanied by confusion and chaos that sounded already all too familiar. The day changed into something anxious, a gut feeling of anxiety that cloaked Americans like a shroud.
We thought, “It’s happened again,” and we listened to the leaders, went about our Saturday shopping, maybe went to a picnic, uneasy, waiting for the internet ticker tape of more details and the lamentations of politicians on the campaign trail, especially from Beto O’Rourke, an increasingly emotional Democratic presidential candidate from El Paso.
All summer we had been battered and beleaguered by loud political crises, the battle of Donald Trump and four members of Congress, all Democrats, all women of color, and the battle between Donald Trump and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) from Baltimore. Trump blasted the city for its crime and rats, using racially charged rhetoric. Finally, there was a Trump rally in Cincinnati, where Trump warned his audience that Democrats would take away their guns.
These things and a rising tide of shootings in cities including Washington, D.C., continued like a particularly stubborn headache or toothache or heartache on the body politic.
And now this, as officials sorted out the damage, the individual tragedies in El Paso.
You thought, “Not this again,” and then thought, “It couldn’t get much worse.” But it did.
Things got worse in a different place and a different setting and time. In Ohio, in Dayton specifically, around one in the morning, another gunman, who had driven to the city, with an armored vest and the tools of killing, in a car with his sister.
The setting was a late-night entertainment district and restaurant area, where folks came to eat and dine, and maybe sing and dance and flirt.
Shots rang out. Nine people were dead in the aftermath, and some 20 were injured. It took all of less than a minute as police already in the area killed the shooter.
Things had gotten worse, much worse. In the span of 23 hours, 31 people had been murdered by gunfire — in El Paso by a man under arrest, connected to an anti-immigrant manifesto on the internet; in Dayton, by a man who had counted his sister among his victims and was killed by police less than a minute into the attack.
Politicians of course responded, and this time some of the tone was a little different, a little sharper, more focused and straight-up. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for one, condemned white supremacists, as, later, did Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. Many Democrats blamed the president’s spate of inflammatory rhetoric during the long hot summer.
Still, it wasn’t that this one or that one was a total shock. There had been worse mass shootings in terms of numbers and school shootings that were hard to fathom.
In El Paso, they talked of domestic terror, which is to say homegrown terrorism. The proximity of the events, from around 10 in the morning to about 1 a.m., were so close as to constitute a state of terror.
City officials in El Paso and Dayton praised first responders for their swift and efficient reactions, especially in Dayton, where the shooter, who was heavily armed, was killed within 30 seconds.
Still, this is what first responders — firemen, ambulance drivers, medics, police and others who protect us — do. They go without complaint or surprise or hesitation to the danger area.
On the other hand, today there are 31 people dead, who woke up Saturday morning not knowing they wouldn’t make it through the night. But when all the names are named, let’s not call them victims. Let’s call out their names.
Their days are done, stolen, not just by the two gunmen, but by the division, the rhetoric, the burgeoning hatred alive in our country.
The president, in a curiously rote first reaction and then a nationally televised speech, blamed a lot of things: the internet, video games, mental health, the shooters. He promised to work on making the country safe by passing bills already awaiting passage, and tried to link the shootings to comprehensive immigration reform. He did, for the first time, managed to condemn white supremacists, while not talking about gun violence and guns.
Some would-be presidents and Democrats in general complained that the president was not taking responsibility for his rhetoric being an underlying cause of violence. Most people didn’t think he would, in any case, because this is a man who prides himself on never apologizing for anything.
Things, however, may be changing.
It’s like the folks in Ohio (who do know the difference between Toledo and Dayton) responded to their governor’s speech, by yelling, loudly and more loudly: “Do Something!”
What the president did do so far was complain about criticism from President Barack Obama and get into a tirade of a Twitter match with O’Rourke, who, in the wake of the twin tragedies, seemed to grow in stature and size.
As of this writing, the president was scheduled to go to both Dayton and El Paso. What happened or might happen there we cannot know, but here is something we do know: the names of those we lost.
In Dayton: Megan Betts. Thomas McNichols. Nicholas Cumer. Lois Oglesby. Saeed Saleh. Logan Turner. Monica Brickhouse. Derrick Fudge. Beatrice Warren Curtis.
In El Paso: Jordan Anchondo. Andre Anchondo. Arturo Benavidez. Javier Rodriguez. Sara Esther Regalado Moriel. Adolfo Cerros Hernandez. Gloria Irma Marquez. Maria Eugenia Legarreta Retho. Ivan Manzano. Juan de Dos Velazquez Chairez. David Johnson. Leonardo Campos Jr. Maribael Campos (Loya). Angelina Silva Englisbee. Maria Flores. Raul Flores. Jorge Calvillo Garcia. Alexander Gerhard Hoffman. Luis Alfonzo Juarez. Elsa Mendoza de la Mora. Margie Reckard. Teresa Sanchez.
Remember the names.