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Walmart to Overhaul and Reopen El Paso Store Where 22 People Were Killed

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The Walmart in El Paso where a gunman targeted Mexicans in a shooting rampage this month is expected to reopen later this year — and when it does, the store won’t be recognizable to customers and employees, the company said on Thursday.

The store, which is on the East Side of the city, will be stripped down to its shell and overhauled during the next three to four months, according to Walmart, which says the store will have a new layout, flooring, fixtures and merchandise.

A memorial to the 22 people killed in the Aug. 3 shooting will be included in the renovation of the store, which draws local residents as well as customers from Ciudad Juárez on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

While Walmart has faced criticism as one of the nation’s largest gun retailers, the El Paso store where the mass shooting took place did not sell firearms, Randy Hargrove, a company spokesman, said.

The store was packed when the shooting began, sending panicked shoppers and employees running for their lives. A 21-year-old man, who wrote in a manifesto that he was responding to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” surrendered to the Texas Rangers and admitted to the shooting, the authorities said.

The violence has thrust Walmart into the position of having to decide the future of the building. It’s a familiar quandary at the site of each mass shooting, like the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the Century Aurora theater in Colorado.

“I don’t think any of the associates want them to tear down the store,” said Alex Rodriguez, 24, a store employee for five years, who was taking his lunch break at home when the shooting started. “Most of them say they should open the store back up.”

But some of his co-workers are struggling with the psychological aftermath of the shooting, said Mr. Rodriguez, who has been transferred to another Walmart in El Paso about seven miles away. “I already know some people that don’t want to go back to work,” he said. “I’m sure even if the store looks different, they’re not going to want to go back.”

Mr. Hargrove said on Thursday that the company had encouraged feedback from its employees on the store’s future and intended to keep them deeply engaged.

“The associates of that store have a very strong connection to that store,” he said. “They have repeatedly told us that they want to go back to work there.”

Mr. Hargrove said that 93 percent of the store’s 400 employees had been placed at other Walmart stores in the area. Grief counselors are available through an employee wellness program, he said, adding, “We’ll continue to provide them what they need.”

Laura C. Wilson, the editor of “The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Mass Shootings” and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, said it was fairly common for survivors to want to demolish a building or space where gun violence took place.

“One of the hallmark characteristics of PTSD is an avoidance of reminders of the trauma, and the location of the shooting is certainly a reminder,” Professor Wilson said in an email on Thursday. “With that in mind, it is not surprising that many communities decide to get rid of or significantly redesign locations where mass shootings occurred.”

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“For the larger community, there is often a sense of wanting to reclaim that space and make that space feel like theirs again,” she added. “Repurposing that space can help achieve that goal.”

Communities have taken different approaches to mass shooting sites.

In Newtown, Conn., for example, the elementary school where 20 first graders and six educators were killed in a 2012 mass shooting was razed and a new school was built on a different part of the property.

In Virginia Beach, officials still have not decided the fate of a municipal building where a city engineer who had quit his job killed 12 people in May. The city conducted a survey of residents and city employees on what to do with the building, with the largest percentage of respondents favoring demolition, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., reported.

In Orlando, Pulse, an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub where 49 people were killed in 2016, reopened in another location. A permanent memorial is planned for the site of the shooting, which is home to a temporary tribute.

Twenty years after a shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., claimed the lives of 12 students and a teacher, the community still has not reached a consensus on what to do with the building, where trespassers have continued to make incursions despite a security perimeter.

Professor Wilson said it was important to remember that people affected by mass shootings respond differently.

Following mass shootings, some family members of those killed talk about wanting to preserve the space,” she said. “They talk about the location as though it is a permanent memorial to those lives lost. They may view the desire to destroy or redesign the space as the community ‘moving on’ and/or ‘forgetting.’”

It’s best if the community works together, she added, “to decide what is best for all those affected by the shooting.”

Seven of the Walmart shooting victims were Mexican citizens, and Walmart said the memorial would reflect the cultural diversity of the community.

“Our goal is to establish a memorial that honors the victims, recognizes the binational relationship between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez and celebrates the strength of the El Paso community,” Mr. Hargrove, the Walmart spokesman, said on Thursday.

“Nothing will erase the pain of Aug. 3,” he added, “and we are hopeful that reopening the store will be another testament to the strength and resiliency that has characterized the El Paso community in the wake of this tragedy.”



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