When Jordan Ballard read that one of the El Paso massacre victims had few relatives and the public was invited to the funeral, on Aug. 15, the resident of Los Angeles bought a plane ticket and flew to Texas to honor a woman she had never met.
She was one of the hundreds of strangers who braved 100-degree heat to pay respect to Margie Reckard, a 63-year-old. After her death, Reckard’s 22-year companion, Antonio Basco, felt heartbroken and alone, had welcomed anyone to attend.
“I arrived here this morning,” said Ballard, 38, who lived in New York City during the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “His story moved me.”
The service has been shifted to accommodate the crowd from a funeral home to La Paz Faith Memorial & Spiritual Center. Vocalists and musicians, including a mariachi band, volunteered to assist. Condolences spilled in and instructions for flowers.
“He felt like he was going to kind of just be by himself with this whole thing but it’s not so,” said Harrison Johnson, director of Perches Funeral Homes, on Thursday.
While well-wishers were waiting, Basco came to individuals in English and Spanish shouting blessings. Someone gave him a gift before entering the funeral home that seemed to be an El Paso T-shirt.
“I love y’all, man,” said Basco, before breaking down.
As the line swelled, Basco returned to personally thank the attendees for coming. People were crowding to hug him and touch him. Basco seemed overwhelmed by the fact that strangers now ran toward him to demonstrate love and give condolences.
Moments later, mariachis went through the crowd singing “Amor Eterno,” the late Juan Gabriel’s 1984 ballad that after the shooting became an anthem for El Paso. Some of the participants sang along. Others were sobbing and out of line.
El Paso’s Jason Medina, 42, said he had to come. Medina stood silently in line, wearing a black and red zoot suit, waiting for his opportunity to say goodbye to someone he never knew. “I know her now,” said Medina. “We’re all family, bro.”
The service was headed by Johnson, who is also a pastor. Funeral home employees encouraged participants to be patient as people started rotating in and out of the service amid the scorching heat.
Reckard had children from a previous marriage who traveled to the funeral from outside the city. But Johnson said Reckard had been “his life, his soulmate, his best friend,” for Basco. He said the couple had a car wash business.
“Probably some people have felt like Mr. Tony in a time of death—they felt like they were alone and nobody was around,” Johnson said.
Perches posted a picture of a bereft Basco kneeling by a candlelight monument on Facebook on Tuesday. The post welcomed anyone to attend Reckard’s funeral and received thousands of remarks and shares quickly.
Perches is one of the local funeral homes that offers free services to the 22 murdered individuals. In the days following the shooting, Basco informed KFOX TV in El Paso that the kindness and selflessness of Reckard was incomparable. “When I met her she was an angel and she still is,” Basco said.
Her son, Harry Dean Reckard, informed The New York Times that the family had little cash and moved often when he and his brother and sister were young. Sometimes he said his mom would work in fast-food restaurants or as a hotel housekeeper to add to what her husband earned as a truck driver.
“As a kid, I just remember her feeding us and trying to provide for us the best that she could,” Harry Dean Reckard, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, said.
He said his mom started a friendship with Basco after his dad died in 1995. A few years ago, the couple relocated to El Paso. He said his mother, who was fighting the disease of Parkinson, “was loved by many.”