As mass shooting anxiety mounts, McAllen braces for busy sales tax weekend

McALLEN — Shoppers are expected to flock to La Plaza Mall for the annual sales tax holiday this weekend, and most stores are hoping to court consumers with discounts. The doors at the mall will be open later than usual and there will be a back to school bash with games and prizes.

But Maria Cerda won’t be there.

She finished her shopping earlier in the week, just days after an attack on Hispanics at a popular shopping center in another border city left nearly two dozen people dead. In its wake, Cerda, sitting outside Dillard’s this week, considered a grim reality.

“Maybe it could happen to us,” she said.

Last weekend, a man drove from Dallas to El Paso, where he shot and killed 22 people, wounding dozens more. The man, who was white, outlined in a so-called manifesto a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” where the writer railed against immigrants.

The massacre in El Paso, the West Texas border city that has had low violent crime rates, has left officials slightly uneasy in McAllen, another border city with a low violent crime rate. McAllen Mayor Jim Darling has for years touted McAllen’s safety, which Darling emphasized in the annual state of the city address in February.

Now, Darling isn’t talking about it.

“You have to be careful — I don’t want to brag about how safe we are because that could trigger something that encourages somebody to challenge that,” Darling said Wednesday. “El Paso has a low crime rate too, and it happened there.”

McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez, whose police department recorded zero homicides in 2018 and is on heightened alert during any busy time in town, said the recent horrors have impacted him and his staff, which studies major incidents such as the ones in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend.

“We’re sensitive to the things going on in the country, especially this one in El Paso,” Rodriguez said. He added: “We’re very lucky nothing has happened here.”

Last summer, though, if only for a few minutes, Darling, Rodriguez and other officials and law enforcement were sent scrambling to contain a chaotic scene at a jewelry store at La Plaza Mall that was initially believed at the time to be an active shooter situation. The scene ended with the arrests of seven men, the first of whom were sentenced on Thursday to lengthy prison time by a state district judge on Thursday after the men pleaded guilty.

That event has stuck with shoppers. Daniel Vela, a Mission man shopping at the mall this week, recalled the botched robbery when discussing the El Paso shooting.

“I got to admit, it’s a thought,” Vela said about the possibility of something terrible unfolding at the mall. “It’s not going to stop me from going, but when you come to places like this you have to watch out a little more now.”

To Vela’s left, across the corridor in the new expansion at La Plaza Mall, was a chalkboard outside the jewelry store Kendra Scott, with a message different from the popular promotions in front of other stores at the mall.

“Our hearts are with Texas & Ohio,” the Kendra Scott chalkboard said on Wednesday. “20% off all proceeds from today will benefit the recent shooting victims & their families.”

Vanessa Esparza, the assistant store manager, said the recent shootings have “made us more aware.” The recent attacks have also left Esparza

“I think it’s on everyone’s mind,” Esparza said. “It’s an ugly thing that’s happening. I mean, it was at a Walmart.”