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“She was my world,” Antonio Basco said. Learning that so many people want to come and honor her, he added, “makes me feel wonderful.”
Antonio Basco had been sleeping on the pavement next to his wife’s new cross for nearly a week.
He had been waking up under the relentless El Paso summer sun to clean off the dead and wilted flowers and ready the white wooden memorial for the outpouring of mourners who have been flooding the Walmart to pay their respects.
The 61-year-old, who goes by Tony, isn’t sure what else to do. He’s been waking up next to Margie Reckard every morning since he met her 22 years ago in Omaha, Nebraska. “She was my world,” he said.
“My wife is a very special human being,” Basco told BuzzFeed News via phone from the Walmart parking lot on Wednesday. “She’s not a person you just meet in a bar or a restaurant. She’s the person you wait your entire life to deserve but you don’t deserve.”
Reckard, 63, was one of 22 victims who died after a white supremacist opened fire inside the Walmart at the Cielo Vista Mall last weekend. Basco said his wife shopped at that supercenter every Saturday while he stayed home and did chores.
When he learned that she had been shot, he said, “I felt everything leave me.” Now he doesn’t really have anyone else except his cat, Princess, whom he called “the other love of [his] life.” The couple moved to El Paso about nine years ago and did “anything and everything together.” They have a few friends in town, “but no one much.”
When faced with the overwhelming task of planning his wife’s funeral, Basco realized that he didn’t really have anyone to invite. He decided to ask everyone, Harrison Johnson, the director of Perches Funeral Homes, told BuzzFeed News.
“He was concerned not a lot of people would come because he doesn’t have family here,” Johnson said. “He hasn’t shared much about his past, but he said she was the best thing that’s ever happened to him.”
So on Tuesday, the funeral home’s Facebook page posted details for the event and invited anyone to the service: “Let’s show him & his Wife some El Paso Love.”
The Facebook post and photo of Basco leaning over rows of glowing candles in front of his wife’s cross has now gone viral. More than 11,000 accounts have shared it, and scores of people from all over the US have left comments.
“We have people calling saying they’re flying in from all over — New Mexico, California, Nevada — and asking how to get here,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be an amazing turnout.”
So many people have vowed to attend, the funeral director said, that the home said Wednesday night that it was moving the service to a larger venue. The chapel can hold about 250 worshippers, Johnson said, but they’re expecting “triple that.”
“I’ve been in this industry for 35 years. Never seen a funeral of this magnitude for a normal person, for not a high-profile citizen,” he added.
Basco said the response “makes me feel wonderful.”
Reckard, who was originally from Baltimore, has two sons and two daughters. Her family will be coming to the funeral from out of town and is grateful for all the support, her daughter-in-law Hilda Nuzzi told KTSM, adding that they welcome anyone who wants to attend the funeral.
Despite having Parkinson’s disease, Reckard loved to go on drives to Whataburger and was a “strong, independent woman who really cared for others, loved Tony, and always had a smile on her face,” Joe Sanchez, one of her caretakers, told BuzzFeed News.
In the days since the massacre, El Paso residents have come and prayed by Basco’s side, checking in on him and ensuring that he has clothes and food. Someone recently put him up in a Hampton hotel, he said.
Robert Manso, who works at a local Ford dealership, said the Red Cross reached out to him and asked if the shop would fix the air conditioning in Basco’s SUV. Since Reckard’s death, Basco had been living out of his car in the Walmart parking lot and using only a small fan perched on top of the dashboard.
The accessories department manager started a fundraiser, quickly garnering $1,650, and the shop also replaced the car’s tires and completed several other major repairs.
“It was heartbreaking to hear him talk about his wife. She sounded like a great lady,” Manso said. “He must have hugged us four times too. He was so grateful. I remember him saying something like, ‘Let me do something for you guys so I can also feel good.'”
Basco isn’t sure when he will leave the Walmart. He has to learn how to live, he said, since his wife was the “strong one and handled all [the] business,” like the house and the bills. Princess is waiting for him too.
“She used to be my cat, then she became Margie’s cat. Loved her better,” he said. “I’m trying to see her when I can. It’s been hard, but she’ll have to forgive me.”