700 Miles Of Fear: How One Corpus Christi Mother Waited In Fear In The Moments After The El Paso Terror Attack
The Southside Light
El Paso, Texas—Diane Fuentes never dreamed that she would have to live through the nightmare of not knowing where her children were during a mass casualty event like what happened in El Paso this past weekend that has as of now claimed 21 lives. She never imagined that when she put her two twin daughters on a plane in San Antonio to go visit their father in El Paso on June 18th that she would be left waiting for word on the status of her children. But that is exactly how it played out this past Saturday and for Fuentes, it is the stuff that nightmares are made of.
“They called about 11:00 here in Corpus,” said through tears. “They said that their dad had given them each $100 dollars and that he was dropping them off at Walmart to do some shopping for back to school.”
Fuentes said that the girls father, Julian lives only a short distance away in an apartment complex just off of Westmoreland Drive, only a few moments drive from where the hateful act took place. Before she knew it she had alerts coming in on her phone about a shooting in El Paso near Cielo Vista Mall.
“At first I was like it’s just something like a dispute or whatever,” Fuentes said. But then her fear of the possibilities began running through her mind. “I saw that it was an active shooter at a Walmart and my heart like stopped.”
She tried calling both daughters cell phones but there was no answer. Julian’s phone just rang and rang. Fuentes’ mind went crazy and the worse began to playout in her head.
“What’s bad is that you just don’t know what is going on,” she said. “I mean, all I wanted was a text or something.”
Meanwhile in El Paso, Diane’s daughter, Olivia was trying to process what was going on.
“I heard sirens and there were cars everywhere,” Olivia recalls. “I thought that maybe something was on fire.”
The girls and their father had decided to stop and grab lunch at a fast food restaurant just down the road in the moments before the shooting occurred Saturday morning.
“Once we figured out what was going on we were scared,” Olivia said through tears. “I just wanted out.”
But as they quickly learned, there was no way out.
Emergency crews had nearly every street blocked off and police cars were coming from everywhere. They tried to call their mom but a voice on the line kept saying that all of the circuits were busy. It would stay that way for at least 2 hours the girls said.
“We had no data, no WiFi, no nothing,” says Barbara, Diane Fuentes’ other daughter. “We had no way of communicating.”
But back in Corpus Christi, Diane had called some friends that she knew she could rely on for comfort. They immediately rushed to her side as the networks ran and reran the horrific images. Finally, nearly 3 hours later Barbara was able to reach her mom over Facebook and calm her fears—at least somewhat.
“I just cried,” Diane says. “You have no idea what that does to you until it happens.”
Diane could not wait to hold her daughters again. In fact, she called her mom who helped her get a plane ticket to El Paso early Sunday morning.
“I’m a mom and I had to be there,” she recalls. “No amount of talking can replace that first hug after something like this.”
Julian, the 38 year-old diesel mechanic and father said he did not know what to do.
“It was like a war or something,” Julian recalls. “Really I thought it was maybe gangs or something because you expect that almost anywhere.”
But all Julian could focus on was getting his twin daughters out of harms way. They sought shelter in a nearby movie theater parking lot once they figured out that the road was closed. It was there that they waited and from there that they were able to call 700 miles back home to Diane.
“This world will never be totally safe,” says Diane. But she hopes that we can make it at least a little safer. “We need to do something because whatever they are doing has not worked right.”
Matt Briscoe contributed to this story.