El Paso is not a small city, with more than 500,000 people living within its borders and more than a million in its metropolitan area.
And The University of Texas at El Paso is not a small college, with more than 25,000 students on its campus.
But those are mere numbers.
Giants guard Will Hernandez said the town in which he “basically grew up” has a tight-knit feel that belies its size and helps explain why he and others with ties to the city took Saturday’s mass shooting there so hard.
“The cool thing about El Paso, the unique thing about it, is it’s technically a big city, but it feels so close together,” he said after practice on Monday. “It feels like a small town, almost, because UTEP is the only football there.
“Everybody from 45 minutes away from the stadium to people living right around the stadium, everybody comes to the game . . . It gives it that small-town feeling in a big city.”
Hernandez was raised in Las Vegas, but he moved to El Paso at 17 and credits the city and school with helping him rise to the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft and a starting spot on the Giants’ offensive line.
He had just gotten off the practice field on Saturday when he checked his phone and learned of the shootings by a white supremacist. As of Monday, there were 22 dead.
As he checked his phone, he saw articles about the shootings and immediately started checking in with friends in the area, learning that none had been directly affected.
That night, he wrote on Twitter, “Heart broken to see El Paso in this condition, prayers go out to anyone affected by this tragedy, I know the people of El Paso are strong and will get through this! Love this city and GOD Bless!!”
On Monday, he said, “Even though I’m here in New York, I quickly sent out prayers, my love, out to the city . . . 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 said he plans to continue maintaining contact with people in the area and offering to help.
“I know the people of El Paso; I know the character they have, and they are strong people,” he said. “They are not the type to let something like that completely tear them down . . . I know they will rally and they will get through this. They will get stronger from this.”
Hernandez, who has been to the Walmart at which the shooting occurred on a few occasions, did not ask himself why such a thing happened in El Paso, saying it could happen anywhere. But El Paso is a heavily Hispanic city, and the gunman had an avowed antipathy toward Hispanics.
When asked how that made him feel, given his own Mexican-American heritage, he said, “It doesn’t matter how or why they are doing this; it happened. The intentions, honestly, I couldn’t care less.
“The thing I do care about is all those families that were affected, all the people that were affected by this. That’s what I really care about — how much people are hurting.”