Monday marks one year since the mass shooting at El Paso’s Cielo Vista Walmart, which police say was a targeted attack on Mexicans. Twenty-three people ultimately died, including 60-year-old Arturo Benavides, a decorated Army veteran and retired city bus driver.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered plans for big, collective memorial events. But over the weekend, Benavides’ family was able to gather together at a dedication ceremony for a transit center that has been renamed in his honor.
Folding chairs were spaced six feet apart, with a pink carnation on each seat. In addition to memorial T-shirts, family members showed up in masks.
Melissa Tinajero said that when she was little, she was slightly intimidated by her uncle, who everyone called Tury.
“He tried to portray [himself] like he was this tough, strong guy,” she said. “Military, whatever. But deep down he was just a super softie.”
Benavides and his wife Patricia didn’t have any children, so they doted on their many nieces and nephews. Melissa said her uncle was always eager to lend a hand, even if it wasn’t always appreciated at the time — like when he taught her how to swim.
“He was a lifeguard, and so we’d go out to the pool and while all the kids are splashing and playing he had me doing laps, ’cause he wanted to make sure that I knew how to swim before I could go and have fun,” she laughed.
Benavides was one of eight children and was extremely close with his family. When the siblings got together they’d revert back to their childhood selves and gently tease each other.
“They would poke at each other,” Melissa said.
“We would purposely do those things to remember our childhood,” added Yolanda Tinajero, Benavides’ oldest sister.
Saturday’s ceremony was a chance for the family to reminisce, as they gathered outside what is now called the Arturo “Tury” Benavides Eastside Transfer Center.
El Paso City Council voted to rename the center last fall. It is just across the street from the Cielo Vista Walmart, where Benavides was killed while shopping with his wife. She had been sitting on a bench to rest her legs as he waited in the checkout line. They got separated when the shooting started, and she survived the attack.
Like Benavides, more than half of the victims were 60 or older. He had been enjoying retirement with his brother, Mike, as they entered their golden years.
“Me being retired as well, wherever I would go I’d go pick him up so he wouldn’t be at home by himself,” Mike said. “So we hung out a lot.”
Arturo loved music. Mike describes him as a disco fanatic who also adored the Mexican musicians Juan Gabriel and José José.
They would drive around, cracking jokes, while music poured out of the speakers.
“That’s gonna be missed for a long, long, long time,” Mike said.
During the dedication ceremony, two Sun Metro buses flanked a podium, their screens flashing bright orange text: In Memory of Arturo Benavides.
Multiple city leaders delivered remarks, including El Paso Mayor Dee Margo.
“Tury Benavides was a man who dedicated his career in service to our city,” Margo said. “His welcoming smile and caring attitude left a lasting impression on passengers and coworkers.”
Leaders also unveiled a memorial plaque that will hang outside the transit center, with an image of Benavides in an army baseball cap.
Patricia Benavides briefly took the podium, dressed in a shirt with a smiling photo of her husband framed by angel wings.
“This is wonderful,” she said, through tears. “This is great. And I’m pretty sure he’s watching it and he’s very proud of himself.”
Now, passengers waiting for their bus to arrive can read the plaque and learn about her husband’s military service and 20 dedicated years with Sun Metro.
Arturo’s niece, Melissa Tinajero said she’ll always think of him first as a kind, sensitive, generous person.
“I’m happy that so many people are getting to know who he is,” she said. “Otherwise he would just be another person. I mean to us he’d be super special, but now everybody gets to know about him.”
“I’m very proud of my brother,” Yolanda Tinajero said. “When he lived and now. Always proud of him.”