JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Elsa Mendoza was getting ready to start the new school year, so she figured a trip to buy school supplies in El Paso was in order. She crossed the border on Saturday and headed to the Walmart next to Cielo Vista Mall as she’d done many times before. Upon her arrival, bullets from an assault-style rifle ended her life, the lives of 21 other people and left two dozen wounded.
The body of Mendoza, a veteran teacher who had recently taken the reins as principal of Rafael Veloz Elementary, was returned to Juarez on Wednesday for her funeral. Coworkers who came to pay their respects at Recinto de la Oracion cemetery expressed their admiration for the 57-year-old woman they continuously referred to as “La Maestra” — the teacher.
“She was a good person and a very determined woman. She made a lot of personal sacrifices to advance in her career. I remember how she went back to school for four years, giving up her summer vacation and coming home late every night,” said Aurora Edith Megid, a fellow teacher.
Despite being in a position of power, Mendoza was always affable and very supportive, fellow teacher Gerardo Cordova Saucedo said.
“I was already retired and she called me back to help with her school’s band. She was a good coworker. Every morning she would ask how I was doing. She was very cordial to all the staff,” he said. “This is very sad for all of us, and for the children because a teacher is like a second parent to his students.”
Mendoza is survived by her husband and children and by extended family like her cousin, Ruth Vargas Marquez.
“The entire family is devastated. We have felt shock and anguish and we’re grieving not just for her, but for the many other people who were killed in such a hateful manner. They died for the color of their skin, for being Mexican or for being Hispanic. It’s sad to think that was the reason,” Vargas said.
Vargas said her cousin conducted herself with determination and class.
“She was a warrior who always fought hard for what she wanted, but what I will remember is her attitude — she always had a ready smile for everyone she talked to,” Vargas said.
Mendoza was one of eight Mexican citizens killed during the massacre at Walmart on Saturday. The other bodies will be repatriated on Thursday and Friday. Mendoza’s rosary and burial are scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
The teacher’s relatives kept their emotions in check when reporters interviewed them Wednesday at the cemetery auditorium, where the wake took place. When asked about President Trump’s visit, most changed the subject or kept their comments at a minimum, as if to not to make him the center of attention instead of Mendoza.
And when asked if they would avoid visiting El Paso because of the massacre, they all said “no.”
“Two of my nephews were killed violently here in Juarez and yet the family has stayed. We just continued to go on with our lives. I think the people of El Paso will do the same,” Vargas said. Her nephews, both Juarez Police officers, were murdered in 2006 and 2010, at the height of the drug cartel wars.
“We know what it’s like to lose loved ones to violence. It’s best to put hate and resentment aside. I see a lot of negative comments on social media (about the massacre). I understand the indignation, but reason should prevail, love and respect should prevail,” Vargas said.
Juan Acereto, Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada’s representative in El Paso, said the Mayor’s office and the Mexican consulate in El Paso are doing everything they can to expedite the return of bodies to Mexico. He added that Perches Funeral home, as well as another Juarez funeral home whose name he couldn’t recall, have also worked to expedite the returns.
“It’s an accomplishment to get the bodies back barely five days after the event. Everybody has been very cooperative, everyone wants to help,” Acereto said. “What we are here to tell the family members is that we will help them with whatever they need and we can provide”.
Acereto thanked the nonprofits in El Paso that are trying to raise money for the survivors and the families of the victims. “The biggest expense will be the hospital bill for the survivors. We still have two (Juarez residents) in the hospital who do not have U.S. health insurance. They will need help.”