Soccer Coach in El Paso Shooting Dies 9 Months Later


The coach, Guillermo Garcia, 36, had been outside the Walmart raising money for his daughter’s soccer team on Aug. 3 when a gunman approached and opened fire. In a rampage that left two dozen people injured, in addition to the 22 who were killed, Mr. Garcia’s injuries were among the most extensive. He remained in intensive care for weeks, undergoing more than 17 surgeries, and had been hospitalized ever since the attack.

Mr. Garcia, a burly man known by his friends and relatives as Tank and also by the nickname of Memo, died Saturday night at Del Sol Medical Center, the hospital where he was being treated.

“After a nearly nine-month fight, our hearts are heavy as we report Guillermo ‘Memo’ Garcia, our last remaining patient being treated from the El Paso shooting, has passed away,” David Shimp, the hospital’s chief executive, said in a statement. “His courage, his strength and his story have touched many lives, including those of our caregivers, who tirelessly fought with him and for him every step of the way.”

With Mr. Garcia gravely wounded in the hospital, his family had lived a day-by-day, moment-by-moment existence. On many days, his wife, Jessica, dropped the children off at school in the morning and drove to the hospital, eager to see how her husband was doing. He and his wife had two children, Karina, 11, and Memo Jr., 7.

Some days were hopeful, like the one in late August, when Mr. Garcia breathed on his own and asked in a whisper for some water, his children and the comforts of home. Other days were filled with pain and uncertainty, and Ms. Garcia stayed at the hospital late into the night, crawling into bed just before her children woke up for school, so that they would not know that something was wrong.

In this way, the agony of a shooting that lasted only minutes dragged out for months.

“These past eight and a half months were harsh to say the least, and yet he still blessed us with jokes, smiles, songs and laughter,” Ms. Garcia said in a statement. “He held on as long as he could to bless us just a little more and he did it out of pure love. When I thought of a warrior I would imagine a man on a horse with a sword, but my warrior was a 6-foot-3-inch gentle giant with a heart of gold, whose hugs were warming to everyone.”

The Garcias, who were high school sweethearts, had come to the Walmart on the morning of the shooting to raise money for their daughter’s soccer team, the El Paso Fusion, for girls ages 9 to 12 that he helped coach with his friend, Luis Calvillo, an Army veteran and fellow soccer dad. The Fusion girls and their supporters were spread out between the two Walmart entrances, selling lemonade and aguas frescas for a tournament in Arizona.

Mr. Calvillo, 33, an operations manager for a trucking company, was talking to Mr. Garcia, a friend since high school, near the canopy the team had set up outside. They were standing just a few feet apart when the gunman opened fire with an AK-47-style rifle.

All around, friends and family were collapsing. Ms. Garcia was shot in the legs. Another woman, a parent of one of the players, was shot in the foot. Mr. Calvillo was shot five times in the leg and the back.

“I had just literally finished talking to him,” Mr. Calvillo said of Mr. Garcia. “When I was in the hospital, I would replay the scene every time.”

In the end, seven of the people shot that day were affiliated with the Fusion team. In addition to the two coaches, four parents had been wounded, and Mr. Calvillo’s father, Jorge Calvillo García, was killed. Ten girls on the team who were there that day were uninjured.

Mr. Calvillo spent nearly two months in two hospitals and underwent five surgeries before he returned home and resumed his duties as the Fusion’s head coach.

For him and most of the Fusion players and parents, soccer became something more than a sport in the aftermath of the attack. Mr. Garcia’s daughter, Karina, continued playing while her father was in the hospital, and Ms. Garcia was a frequent presence on the sidelines.

“These past few months, we did it together — I pushed and he fought,” Ms. Garcia wrote in her statement. “With the help of his troops, he won many battles, but in the end we lost the war. I told my kids that we did not lose him — we just gained an angel, and now we need to make him proud like he has always made us proud. We are Tank-Tough.”

At a Democratic presidential debate in Houston six weeks after the shooting, Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso, cited Mr. Garcia and his family as an example of grit and inspiration.

“Everything that I’ve learned about resilience, I’ve learned from my hometown of El Paso,” Mr. O’Rourke said. Mr. Calvillo was finding ways to direct the team from the hospital bed, he said, Mr. Garcia was “fighting for his life,” and their wives arrived at the hospital daily to care for them.

“They exemplify resilience to me,” Mr. O’Rourke said.

Manny Fernandez reported from Houston, and Sarah Mervosh from Canton, Ohio.



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