EL PASO, Texas — Antonio Basco stood in front of his wife’s casket for two hours Friday hugging strangers.
The El Paso man initially thought no one would show up for his wife’s visitation service. Margie Reckard, 63, was killed when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart. The couple had no relatives in the area.
Basco walked into the La Paz Faith Memorial and Spiritual Center to a storm of applause and a procession of people wanting to hug him. The building was at capacity with 400 mourners. Outside, another 700 waited in nearly 100-degree heat to pay respects, according to funeral organizers.
“People were telling me they came from different faiths, different cities. It’s just incredible how much love and support every single one of you has shown,” Reckard’s grandson, Tyler, said.
Margie ‘always had a smile on her face’
Reckard’s son, Dean, said he didn’t spend as much time with his mother as he wanted. He told attendees he didn’t remember much of his childhood because it was rough and that his mother lived a “hardknock life.”
“Through everything she dealt with in her life, she always had a smile on her face,” he said.
Unlike the man who killed his mother, Reckard said she was very accepting and open of all people. He said she looked at his three biracial children with nothing but “pure love.”
“My mother loved everyone regardless of color, religion, politics or whatever,” he said.
Basco really changed his mother’s life, though, Reckard said. He described her as being extremely happy with him.
“Tony you’ve been unbelievable for my mother,” Reckard said.
Flowers came from all over the world
Strangers from as far away as Japan and New Zealand sent flowers, which lined the outside of the church and the front of the alter. Almost 1,000 people have donated to a GoFundMe campaign to help Basco with expenses, raising more than $25,000.
“Everywhere I look, I just see all these flowers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many flowers,” Reckard’s son said.
Elodia Perches, co-owner of Perches Funeral Home, said the funeral home has received more than 400 flower arrangements.
One local florist said her business delivered more than 50 arrangements, with orders coming in from New York and Michigan. One of those arrangements came from the family of a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I’ve been in business over 30 years,” Sandy Blanco, owner of Debbie’s Bloomers, told CNN. “I’ve never seen any outpouring so beautiful, and an outpouring as large as this.”
Salvador Perches, owner of Perches Funeral Home, told the mourners that funeral homes across El Paso had received so many flower arrangements that he coordinated with them to have 22 hearses — one for each the 22 people killed in the shooting — to deliver the flowers to a memorial in the the Walmart parking lot.
One woman flew in from San Francisco
When Hala Hijazi heard about the open invitation to the visitation three days ago, she broke down. Seeing how much Basco loved his wife and how lost he is without her touched her heart, she said.
Without a second thought, Hijazi cleared her calendar and booked a flight to El Paso from San Francisco.
“I didn’t want him to suffer alone. I didn’t want him to grieve alone,” she said through tears.
Hijazi said “all the rhetoric that’s going on in this world” makes her want to show kindness. And if she gets a chance to talk to Basco at the funeral, she wants to thank him.
She got that chance when she sat behind Basco at the service.
“I thanked him for not just bringing El Paso together, but bringing the country together,” she said. “I have never witnessed a human being as humble, as kind, as sweet, as pure of heart that I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
Hijazi said with all the negativity, divisiveness and violence in the world, she was worried she would be desensitized.
“He was a breath of fresh air to me to weep as much as I could,” she said of Basco.
She said El Paso was a beautiful and kind community, and she said she would come back for sure.
“They’re like this whether there was a tragedy or not, and that’s how we should all be,” she said.
Her husband visits her memorial every day
Since the massacre that took the love of his life, Basco has visited the makeshift memorial behind Walmart daily, coming and going at all hours. He leaves fresh flowers each day at the site of a white cross bearing his wife’s name and removes any that are dying. Sometimes, he talks to her.
“I promised her fresh roses every day,” Basco said.
Basco met Reckard at a bar 22 years ago. She had been smiling at him that night, and he eventually worked up the courage to approach her. A drink and friendly conversation soon turned into a dinner.
“Me and my wife had a bond, a magnificent bond,” Basco said. “I never felt anything like that in my life.”
The couple soon became inseparable, traveling around the country until they eventually settled in El Paso. They took care of each other as they grew older and as Reckard began battling Parkinson’s disease.
On August 3, Reckard headed to the Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall for groceries. It was the last time Basco saw her alive. After the massacre, he searched hospitals for hours. A day later, law enforcement officers told him his wife was among the murdered.
Now that the time has come to lower his wife into the ground, Basco fears he may break down.
“I won’t know what I’m going to say until I get up there,” he said. “I may not be able to do it.”
Knowing so many people will be there to help him grieve has been a “good feeling,” Basco said. He didn’t imagine he’d see an outpouring of support this massive, but he said he knows everyone who attends his wife’s services will realize how special she was.
“They’ll feel her in there,” he said. “They’ll feel her presence.”