EL PASO, Texas (KNWA) — When Robert and Beverly Engle left for El Paso, Texas, on July 28, they were carrying on their mission of helping one person at a time.
“We hear a lot of stories about what was going on at the border, immigrants locked up in cages. The bottom line for us is it’s a humanitarian crisis. So my wife said, ‘Let’s go see what’s going on.’
During their mission, the Engles saw the best of humanity. But at the end of it, they encountered unspeakable horrors when a gunman armed with an assault rifle opened fire in an El Paso Walmart, killing 22 people and wounding over two-dozen more. The Engles were in that Walmart when the massacre happened.
The Engles are the founders and executive directors of Restoration Village, a women’s shelter in Rogers, and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County, also in Rogers. They have helped women in need since 1989 and abused children since 2000.
Concerned about the situation on the border, Beverly called the Salvation Army in El Paso and asked if she and Robert could come help.
“The answer was, ‘Yes, because our volunteers are exhausted,'” Engle said.
The Engles packed up for a week-long trip and departed their Little Flock home. When they arrived in El Paso, they were put to work feeding Mexican families who were sheltered in a warehouse rented by Catholic Charities.
“We prepared three meals a day on the west side of town, loaded our car, drove it to the east side of town and fed anywhere from 150 to 250 people a hot meal three times a day,” Engle said.
During this time, Catholic Charities was working to find sponsors for the families they were sheltering.
“Our role was to make sure they ate good meals. Most of the people who they were getting in had children,” Engle said.
The Engles couldn’t speak the Spanish language common to those at the shelter, but they learned an “international language.”
“The international language is smiles and fist bumps. It blew my mind that I could interact with kids with a smile and a fist bump,” Engle said..
The Engles delivered food from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. for five straight days.
“They’re people. They’re hungry. They’re in a strange land. [The] secret of life is you help one person at a time. If you want to make a difference, make it to the one person near you. The greatest work of life is a servant’s heart,” Engle said.
After their work in El Paso was over, the Engles set out to head home, but they first stopped at Walmart to pick up some flavored water and a small ice cooler for the 24 handmade tamales they planned to take back to their staff members.
“We had stopped at the front of the store. There was a coach and some moms and all the little children from a girls soccer team. We talked to them just a little bit because I have grandchildren who are on a soccer team in Rogers,” Engle said.
The soccer team was trying to raise money.
“My wife told the coach we would give them some money on the way out. I looked him right in the face,” Engle said.
The Engles were in Aisle 23 putting flavored water in their shopping cart when they heard a sequence of popping sounds.
“We heard what I would call firecrackers. I said, ‘That sounds like firecrackers. What is all of this about?’
And then all of a sudden people started running from the front of the store saying, ‘Get out! Get out! White guy with an AK-47,” Engle said.
The Engles followed the crowd out of the store.
“We didn’t run. There was no panic. The employees were calm. They were yelling, ‘This a’way! This a’way,” Engle said.
Store employees lead the Engles and others in the store to an alley behind Walmart and the Sam’s Club located nearby.
The Engles hid behind cars and trucks inside the alley and heard the sounds of sirens and police.
“That’s when we started to see people running by with blood all over them. We saw a man carrying a baby, come running by. There was blood all over him. We were afraid it was the baby [bleeding],” Engle said.
Engle later learned that the baby is the 2-month-old son of 25-year-old Jordan Anchondo, who died shielding her son from gunfire.
“[The man] had the baby and was running to find an ambulance,” Engle said.
Police lead the Engles and other shooting survivors into the Sam’s Club lobby.
“In the lobby at Sam’s, there was people wounded. You could see a hole where it went through one lady’s leg and went out the other side,” Engle said.
Sam’s Club employees kept calm, helping the elderly and handing out water and snacks, Engle said.
“We were in Sam’s for three hours before we had an ‘all clear’ that a person can leave,” Engle said.
Once outside, the Engles came across the Salvation Army workers they had served alongside in the days prior.
“They put us to work in their disaster wagon,” Engle said. “The Army knew us. They said, ‘Get in here and help us out.'”
The Engles handed out water and Lunchables.
On the darkest day the Engles had ever seen, they also witnessed the light that shines from the kindness of others.
“There was some teenagers helping put the wounded on those flatbed shopping carts. This place was not secure, we don’t know where the shooter is yet, but there was people in the parking lot picking up wounded, putting them on those carts and wheeling them over to get them off of that [hot] asphalt,” Engle said. “One of those teenagers started throwing up. My wife went over and put her hand on him and said, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ He straightened up, kind of caught his breath and kept’a going.”
Engle later learned that the girls soccer coach and two of the mothers who were trying to raise money for their team had been shot during the massacre. The coach was killed.
“I haven’t got over that and I probably won’t. Those little girls are gonna live with it the rest of their life too,” he said.
Police captured the shooter, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, and arrested him the same day. Crusius later admitted to detectives that he traveled to the El Paso Walmart to kill people of Mexican descent.
Engle said Mexicans seeking to enter the United States are human beings who deserve respect. He said they come to the United States for one, essential thing.
“Hope,” Engle said. “At the center where we were working to feed them, somebody painted a gigantic mural with the Spanish word that stands for hope. What else can you call [what they’re looking for]? If you’re living in poverty and crime and corruption and you heard America is where you can get jobs and make a living and feed your family, that’s called hope, ‘Let’s go to America.'”