Former Salina resident Jessica Coca Garcia said her husband stood in front of her, blocking bullets fired by a gunman outside an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on Saturday.
Now Guillermo “Tank” Garcia, 34, is fighting for his life.
Garcia, also known as Memo, on late Monday afternoon was undergoing his fifth surgery since being shot at least three times in the attack, which killed 22 people and wounded two dozen others, said Don Coca, of Salina.
He wasn’t sure of the details, but Coca said he believed they were working on reattaching Garcia’s intestines, which were removed in an earlier surgery.
“They had to remove his gall bladder and spleen and part of his intestines,” Coca said. “He also had liver damage. The bullet fragmented, hit his spine. They’re not even worried about the leg wounds. They’re just trying to keep him alive ... He’s really fighting.”
Doctors previously told the family that if Memo Garcia survives, he has a 65 percent chance of being a paraplegic.
Coca, Jessica Garcia’s father, drove from Salina to El Paso with his wife, Norma, on Sunday when they were unable to secure a flight.
Born and raised in El Paso, the Garcias moved to Salina in 2007 for Tank’s work as a construction foreman.
Don and Norma Coca followed Jessica about a year later and continued to reside in Salina after the Garcias moved back to Texas about 16 months ago to be closer to Memo Garcia’s family and Jessica’s four siblings, who were still there.
The Garcia family, including the couple’s children, Memo, 5, and Karina, 10, were in front of the store with other members and coaches of Karina’s soccer team, selling cold drinks to raise money, when the assault began.
“My daughter told me what she saw was horrific stuff,” Don Coca said. “When it first happened she didn’t know she’d been shot. Tank is a big man, 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds. He got in the way of the bullets — he took the brunt of it. He was shot a few times in the leg and then the back.
“When the guy came up shooting, he shot one guy and then Tank was second. My daughter was third, and then a friend next to her was shot.”
Jessica was struck at least twice in the leg. A third leg wound they now believe was a pass-through shot, Coca said.
After they went down, the 21-year-old shooter entered the store and started killing people inside.
“He circled back out to finish people off,” Coca said his daughter told him. “My daughter said she pretended she was dead. When he walked up to a lady next to her, the lady looked up at the gunman and was shot in the face. She said an older man standing there looked at him as well and was shot in the head, and his whole head blew up ... She’s going to have trauma and difficulty dealing with those things for a long time.”
She wasn’t sure how the shooting ended, Coca said, but when she felt it safe to get up, Jessica ran into the Walmart looking for her children, who had been just outside the door and were rushed inside by others when the shooting first started.
“As she ran into the store, by this time they were ushering people outside,” Coca said. “Then she fell, and someone said ‘you’re bleeding.’ Until then she didn’t’ realize she’d been shot.”
Other customers were pulling clothes off racks and using them to wrap victims' wounds, including hers, Coca said his daughter told him.
“They put her in a shopping cart and rolled her outside,” he said. “There were no ambulances available, so a guy drove her to the hospital in his car. He’s my hero, to save her life. She could have easily bled out.”
Jessica, 31, is “physically doing well,” Coca said, and “expected to make a full recovery.”
She will likely be released from the hospital this week. Her children can’t see her until she is released, however, because a measles outbreak is limiting hospital visitors.
Friends of the family have set up a GoFundMe page to help with future expenses.
The page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/jessica-coca-garcia
“They’re going to need a lot of financial and emotional help for a long time,” Coca said. “They recently just bought a house. I don’t know how they’re going to make it if neither of them is able to work. It doesn’t sound like Tank will be able to work for a long time, if he makes it.”