EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For Will Hernandez, the shooting that heartbreakingly killed 22 people on Saturday in El Paso, Texas was not only a national tragedy, but a personal one.
Hernandez, the Giants' second-year left guard, spent five years at the University of Texas at El Paso. He knows the community and loves its people and like millions of others, has been horrified at what he has seen and heard. Hernandez has shopped in the Walmart where the shootings took place.
"It's right next to the Cielo Vista Mall, which is a very popular mall," Hernandez said after a training camp practice today. "It's almost in the center of the city, so a lot of people go there. A lot of traffic there. Yeah, I've been a few times to that Walmart."
Because of that, Hernandez said the horrible news from his collegiate home "definitely" resonated with him in a much more personal way than other such incidents.
"Not only is what happened a scary thing, but the fact that I know that I've been there before, and it could have happened to anybody, especially me, at any moment, it does make it more scary," he said. "It's a horrible thing. I can't even begin to imagine everything that the families feel, the families of those affected feel, and those affected themselves. That's the kind of thing that can scar somebody for life. It's just not fair. It's horrible, and I don't know why it happens."
As soon as he heard the news, Hernandez began reaching out to about a dozen friends who live in the area.
"I was messaging people left and right," he said. "Thankfully, everybody that I knew directly was fine. Families and friends of theirs were also fine. Luckily, I didn't have anybody that I knew personally. But still, it's still something - just to know somebody from that city got affected by it hurts me just as much.
"Even though I'm here in New York, I quickly sent out prayers, my love, out to the city. That city is really important to me. I basically grew up there, I got there when I was 17 years old, left, and I was there for five or six years. It's really, really important to me. I love all the people in El Paso. It gave me so much, it put me on the path that led me to the NFL. El Paso is very dear to my heart and I felt that even being here."
Hernandez was raised in Las Vegas, but he quickly felt at home in El Paso, in large measure because the community is so supportive of UTEP athletics.
"The cool thing about El Paso, the unique thing about it, it's technically a big city, but it feels so close together," Hernandez said. "It feels like a small town almost because UTEP is the only football there. Everybody from 45 minutes away to the stadium, to people living right around the stadium, everybody comes to the game. A lot of people come to the games, a lot of people support the UTEP Miners. It gives it that small town feeling in a big city."
Hernandez now works and lives more than 2,000 miles from El Paso, but he will continue to support that city as best he can as he prepares for his second Giants season.
"I will be in constant communication with everybody there, making sure everybody is alright, seeing how I can help if there is any way I can help," he said. "Right now, all I can do is give my condolences, talk to the people. I know the people of El Paso, I know the character they have, they are strong people. They are not the type to let something like that completely tear them down, they are strong people. I know they will rally, and they will get through this, they will get stronger from this."