El Paso Walmart where 22 slain in August reopens with increased security

Walmart employees gather outside the Walmart store for a reopening event, Thursday in El Paso, Texas.
Caption
Walmart employees gather outside the Walmart store for a reopening event, Thursday in El Paso, Texas.

Credit: Briana Sanchez

Credit: Briana Sanchez

Walmart has quietly hired off-duty officers at its stores in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman police say targeted Mexicans opened fire in a store in August and killed 22 people.

On Thursday, the retail giant reopened the store where the attack happened. There are ongoing lawsuits about security on the day of the attack, when Walmart didn’t have a guard at the store.

»PREVIOUS COVERAGE: El Paso Walmart to reopen Thursday, 3 months after mass shooting

About 50 shoppers lined up early to enter the renovated location, and they streamed past dozens of sheriff's deputies, security guards and store employees once the doors opened. Workers greeted the shoppers with cheers of “Welcome back to Walmart!”

»MORE: Suspected gunman said he was targeting Mexicans

Police say Patrick Crusius drove more than 10 hours from his grandparents' house where he lived in a Dallas suburb to carry out the attack. Crusius, 21, has pleaded not guilty. More than 3,000 people from largely Latino El Paso and neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, were at the store when the attack happened.

“There was a time that Walmart hired off-duty officers and for some time prior (to) August 3rd that ceased,” El Paso police spokesman Enrique Carrillo said in an email. He declined to provide more details.

‘We’re covering Walmarts’

When Police Chief Greg Allen first revealed the phasing out of officers during a City Council meeting, council members discussed possibly requiring that off-duty officers be hired at large stores, though the idea hasn’t been implemented.

Instead, Walmart quietly started hiring off-duty officers at its stores throughout the city, from its sprawling Supercenters to its smaller neighborhood grocery stores.

“We’re covering Walmarts, we’re also covering Sam’s (Club),” said El Paso police union president Ron Martin. “Even the neighborhood Walmarts are being covered. Some of them are being covered by sheriff’s deputies; some of them are being covered by our guys. I mean, I have seen some constables working it.”

Martin said it’s unclear how long Walmart will continue to staff every location.

The off-duty officers are paid about $50 per hour, depending on their rank, which is about double the officers’ full-time hourly wage.

Caption
Walmart security turns customers away before the reopening. Walmart has quietly hired off-duty officers at dozens of its stores after a gunman killed 22 people in El Paso in August.

Credit: MARK LAMBIE

Walmart security turns customers away before the reopening. Walmart has quietly hired off-duty officers at dozens of its stores after a gunman killed 22 people in El Paso in August.
Caption
Walmart security turns customers away before the reopening. Walmart has quietly hired off-duty officers at dozens of its stores after a gunman killed 22 people in El Paso in August.

Credit: MARK LAMBIE

Credit: MARK LAMBIE

Walmart officials declined to discuss the hiring of police officers, the costs, or if the company is taking similar steps in other cities.

“We typically do not share our security measures publicly because it could make them less effective, but they may include hiring additional security, adding cameras in store and using ‘lot cops’ in the parking lot,” said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia, referring to security cameras placed in parking lots. “We will continue our long-standing practice of regularly evaluating our staffing, training, procedures, and technology which are designed to provide a safe working and shopping experience.”

"We listen to our associates. They want to get back to a normal way of life." — John Furner, Walmart CEO

John Furner, Walmart CEO for its U.S. business, said on the company’s earnings call Thursday that workers at the El Paso store had weighed in and wanted the location reopened.

“We listen to our associates,” said Furner, who attended the reopening. “They want to get back to a normal way of life.”

Some victims sue company

Some victims are suing Walmart about the lack of security on the day of the attack, arguing the company’s method of evaluating security boils down to an inadequate algorithm.

»MORE: El Paso Walmart shooting: Here's what we know about the victims

Many more are still dealing with the shared trauma.

Manuel Hernández, 91, went to the reopened Walmart on Thursday to see other people’s reactions as they entered the building. He sat at the McDonald’s inside the store and sipped a cup of coffee as he reflected on the shooting.

Caption
Walmart employees cheer as customers return to the store.

Credit: MARK LAMBIE

Walmart employees cheer as customers return to the store.
Caption
Walmart employees cheer as customers return to the store.

Credit: MARK LAMBIE

Credit: MARK LAMBIE

“This is kind of an emotional thing that I just really do not understand. I cannot cope with it,” Hernandez said, referring to the attack. “What if, right this moment, someone comes in with a machine gun in hand? What would I do?”

Construction workers have broken ground on a permanent memorial in the store’s parking lot, a “Grand Candela” that will be about 30 feet tall and could be finished in as little as three weeks.

The gun debate

The reopening of the El Paso store also comes as Walmart has dipped its toe into the gun debate. It plans to post signage with its new policy discouraging customers from openly carrying guns. But it is not banning them.

»GEORGIA ANGLE: Soldier from Georgia tried to save kids during El Paso mass shooting

A month after the mass shooting in El Paso, Walmart announced that it planned to phase out sales of certain kinds of ammunition in its stores.

The move will reduce its market share of ammunition from about 20% to less than 10%, according to Walmart. About half of its more than 4,750 U.S. stores sell firearms, but they account for only 2% of guns sold in the U.S. Most are sold through thousands of unaffiliated gun shops or gun shows, not big retail chains.