His only relative was killed in El Paso; he invited the city to her funeral

Antonio Basco on Aug. 6 visits a makeshift memorial for victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso. When his wife was killed in the shooting, Basco lost not only his spouse of 22 years, but also his only relative. Calla Kessler/New York Times file photo

When his wife was killed in the El Paso shooting this month, Antonio Basco lost not only his partner of 22 years but also his only relative.

With no other family, Basco asked a funeral home to invite the public to the visitation and prayer service Friday for his wife, Margie Reckard. El Pasoans sent a clear response: We’ll be there.

One day after Perches Funeral Homes wrote on Facebook that Basco “welcomes anyone to attend,” the funeral home said Wednesday that it was moving the service to a larger venue. More than 50 strangers have ordered flower arrangements, tributes have poured in online and people have made plans to travel from California, Wisconsin and New York to attend, according to the funeral home.

“He thought he would be burying his wife alone,” said Harrison Johnson, a funeral director at Perches who is handling the service. “This is about a community coming together to be there for him, to hold him up.”

Reckard, 63, was one of 22 people killed after a gunman opened fire at a Walmart on Aug. 3, and the story of El Paso rallying around Basco is one of many to inspire an outpouring of sympathy and compassion in the aftermath of the attack. There were the parents who died protecting their 2-month-old baby, who survived; the soccer team that hosted a vigil for their 15-year-old teammate who was killed; the Walmart employees who helped shoppers flee and then helped one another deal with their trauma.

Basco thought a few neighbors and other El Paso residents might respond to the open invitation, Johnson said. Instead, Basco, who has a small car-washing business, has been stunned by the flood of condolences even as he continued to process the sudden death of his partner.

“I talked to him this morning, and he’s still breaking down in tears,” Johnson said Wednesday. “Reality is really setting in because he knows she’s gone.”

In the days after the massacre, Basco told KFOX that when he met his wife, “she was an angel, and she still is.”

He said her kindness could not be matched and that one could see that she was “an awesome lady” simply by looking at how she acted. “We were going to live together and die together,” he said.

Photographs of Basco kneeling in front of a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles for Reckard and other victims have been widely shared across social media and by news organizations. Some show him with his head resting against his forearm, his hair spilling out from under a Ford Motor cap, wearing a blue plaid shirt and a wedding band. Others show him kissing a cross with his wife’s name; being consoled by Beto O’Rourke, an El Pasoan and Democratic candidate for president; or wiping tears from the deep lines around his eyes.

Members of Reckard’s family, including her children who are not related to Basco, will travel from out of town to be at the service, said Hilda Nuzzi, a daughter-in-law of Reckard’s.

Nuzzi never met her mother-in-law, but they spoke on the phone and kept up on Facebook. She said Southwest Airlines had offered to fly her and her husband, who is one of Reckard’s three children, to El Paso, and that other people had offered to pay for lodging.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “We really want to thank everybody because they’re not just doing it for my family, they’re doing it for all families.”

Nuzzi said she lost her sister Tiffani Grissett to gun violence in August 2012 when a man fired into a nightclub in Alabama, killing three people and wounding one. Nuzzi said she sat through the capital murder trial for the man, who was convicted and sentenced to death row. She said she wanted to do the same for the suspect’s trial in El Paso.

At the service Friday, Nuzzi and her husband plan to wear purple, which they said was Reckard’s favorite color.

Expecting that 1,000 people may come to the service, the funeral home moved the ceremony from its scheduled location in a strip mall in northeast El Paso, which could hold about 200 people, to the larger La Paz Faith Memorial and Spiritual Center, a nondenominational church closer to downtown. The mayor and other politicians are scheduled to attend and address mourners.

Jorge Ortiz, the funeral home’s general manager, said that in 11 years at the business, this was the first open invitation to a service he could remember. Overflow crowds have been hosted in the past, he said, but never more than about 400 people.

The funeral home’s Facebook post has been shared more than 12,000 times and has elicited more than 1,500 comments. One woman wrote that she had sent flowers from Los Angeles. Another man said he would attend the visitation and represent the hundreds of people who could not make it.

“We’re going to do everything we can to give her a great send-off and try to give Antonio some closure,” Johnson said, adding that the funeral home was covering all of the costs.

Johnson said Basco had confided in him that he did not really know what to do now that his wife was gone but that he had been touched by the enormous response to the notice that all were welcome.

Reckard was born in Washington, D.C., according to her obituary, which on Wednesday was receiving tributes from strangers every few seconds.