EL PASO, Texas (AP) — When Jordan Ballard read that one of the victims of the El Paso massacre had few relatives and the public was invited to her funeral, the Los Angeles resident bought a plane ticket and flew to Texas to honor a woman she had never met.
She was one of hundreds of strangers who braved 100-degree (38 Celsius) heat to pay their respects to 63-year-old Margie Reckard. Feeling heartbroken and alone after her death, Reckard's companion of 22 years, Antonio Basco, had welcomed anyone to attend.
"I arrived here this morning," said Ballard, 38, who lived in New York City during the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "His story moved me."
The service was moved from a funeral home to La Paz Faith Memorial & Spiritual Center to accommodate the crowd. Vocalists and musicians volunteered to help, including a mariachi band. Condolences and orders for flowers poured in.
"He felt like he was going to kind of just be by himself with this whole thing but it's not so," Perches Funeral Homes director Harrison Johnson said Thursday of Basco.
While well-wishers waited, Basco arrived to people shouting blessings in English and Spanish. Before entering the funeral home, someone gave him a gift that appeared to be an El Paso t-shirt.
"I love y'all, man," Basco said, before breaking down.
As the line swelled, Basco came back out to thank attendees personally for coming. People crowded around to hug and touch him. Basco appeared overwhelmed that strangers were now running toward him to show love and offer condolences.
Moments later, mariachis walked through the crowd singing "Amor Eterno," the 1984 ballad by the late Juan Gabriel, that has become an anthem for El Paso following the shooting. Some attendees sang along. Others sobbed and got out of line.
Jason Medina, 42, of El Paso, said he had to come. Wearing a black and red zoot suit, Medina stood quietly in line and waited for his chance to say goodbye to someone he never knew. "I know her now," Medina said. "We're all family, bro."
Johnson, who is also a pastor, headed the service. Funeral home staff urged attendees to be patient as people began rotating in and out of the service amid scorching heat.
Reckard had children from a previous marriage who travelled from out of town to the funeral. But Johnson said that for Basco, Reckard was "his life, his soul mate, his best friend." The couple had a car wash business, he said.
"Probably some people have felt like Mr. Tony in a time of death — they felt like they were alone and nobody was around," Johnson said.
On Tuesday, Perches posted on Facebook a photo of a bereft Basco kneeling by a candlelight memorial. The post welcomed anyone to attend Reckard's funeral and soon drew thousands of comments and shares.
Perches is among local funeral homes offering free services for the 22 people killed. In the days after the shooting, Basco told El Paso television station KFOX that Reckard's kindness and selflessness was incomparable. "When I met her she was an angel and she still is," Basco said.
Her son, Harry Dean Reckard, told The New York Times that when he and his brother and sister were children, the family didn't have much money and frequently moved. He said his mother would sometimes work at fast food restaurants or as a hotel housekeeper to add to what her husband earned as a truck driver.
"As a kid, I just remember her feeding us and trying to provide for us the best that she could," said Harry Dean Reckard, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
He said that after his father died in 1995, his mother began a relationship with Basco. The couple had moved to El Paso a few years ago. He said his mother, who had been battling Parkinson's disease, "was loved by many."
Associated Press reporter Russell Contreras reported from El Paso, Texas.