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US Memphis laborer who claims to be Walmart mystery hero struggles with homelessness

09:50  23 january  2020
09:50  23 january  2020 Source:   elpasotimes.com

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Lazaro Ponce looks at traffic passing by on Summer Avenue in the eastern part of this growing Southern city.

The transient day laborer with Mexican border roots claims to be the mystery hero recorded on video helping a baby during the El Paso Walmart mass shooting on Aug. 3.

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Ponce and his wife, Crystal Ann Roberts, have been together for five years, traveling from city to city, hoping to make a living amid a daily struggle with homelessness.

"We are struggling. We are not exactly homeless, right now. Sometimes, we are without a single dollar, with nothing," Ponce said, preferring to speak in Spanish.

As a cold breeze blew under cloud-covered skies, Ponce said that even though the couple is not on the streets, life is hard in this growing metro-area of 1.3 million people.

Ponce has found daily work as a laborer. Another worker is letting the couple stay in a small backyard room, which has electricity.

They are staying along Summer Avenue in a section of Memphis known as Berclair, some 8 miles east of the music and neon lights of Beale Street in a city known as the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock 'n' roll.

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Memphis is an African-American majority city, with 64% of the population; 29% of residents are white and Latinos make up 7%, according to U.S. Census Bureau's 2019 estimates.

Summer Avenue is a typical middle-class street with chain stores and fast-food restaurants. The area has Latino residents and a few Latino-themed businesses.

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About 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. each morning, Ponce and other laborers gather near the Superman Discount Market or Lowe's hardware store, waiting to be selected by contractors looking for workers for the day.

"You get up early; that’s when you get the good jobs there," he said. "I do roofing, painting, landscaping. That’s what I know how to do well. I do a little of everything."

Born in Texas, raised in Mexico

Ponce's story is that of a Mexican immigrant, although he is a U.S. citizen born in 1976 in San Antonio, Texas. He showed a copy of his Bexar County birth certificate.

Ponce grew up in the Colonia 16 de Septiembre area of Juárez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, he said.

When he was about 16 years old, the lure of working in the U.S. beckoned and Ponce left Juárez, following relatives established in the South.

"I have uncles in Atlanta, Georgia. They were the ones who pulled me over here" to the United States, Ponce said.

Ponce scoffed when asked if he attended school when he arrived in the U.S. as a teen. "Work. No, work; forget it. Work," Ponce replied. "The uncle I have works in roofing; that’s where I learned. I worked with them.”

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He explained that his life in the U.S. was different than in Mexico. "Here, everything is about work. The lifestyle is very different here. In reality, life is faster here. You have to work to pay the bills and this and that."

'It's an illusion'

Ponce fell for the temptation of easy money, he said, disclosing that he was 18 years old when he was first arrested and convicted for drug dealing in the Atlanta area.

"Sincerely, when I was younger, I was acelerado," Ponce said, using a slang term meaning a person is accelerated, or living the fast life.

"For years (now), I haven’t had a problem (with the law). Since I got together with my wife, everything has been calm," he said. "I have a responsibility. I can’t do something stupid and leave her out in the streets alone."

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Walmart One.

In 1995, he was convicted of felony possession of cocaine and misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon and driving under the influence, according DeKalb County, Georgia, court records

DeKalb County records state that Ponce served  probation and 92 days imprisonment by 1997, which the court found sufficient.

In July 2001, El Paso County court records show Ponce was sentenced to seven days in jail after being convicted on misdemeanor charges of evading arrest and possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana. He was released in three days on time served.

In November 2001, Ponce was caught driving a car loaded with marijuana at the El Paso border. He pleaded guilty to importation of marijuana and was sentenced to three years and eight months in federal prison, plus three years of supervised release, according to federal court records.

In 2006, a U.S. probation officer conducting an El Paso home visit found Ponce had moved without permission, telling his landlord he was returning to Juárez. Ponce also missed drug and alcohol counseling sessions, El Paso federal court documents state.

In 2011, Ponce was back in custody, his supervised released revoked and he was sentenced to a year in prison. He requested to be sent near Atlanta to be closer to family.

Ponce said he served a little more than three years for a total of about 40 months in various federal prisons from California to Atlanta.

"I was locked up. I was selling drugs, understand," Ponce said. "They once caught me in El Paso crossing drugs in a car and all that. But now, everything I owed, I paid. I don’t owe the law anything now.

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"They were stupid things that you do when you’re young, understand," he said. "It appears like things will be easy. One thing I learned is that only by working you can get ahead. Trying to get that easy money doesn’t leave anything good except being locked up, jail. It’s an illusion.”

Homelessness

Ponce said that he has a responsibility to take care of Roberts since they met five years ago in South Carolina. Roberts is originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The couple has drifted from city to city, in and out of homelessness.

They were in El Paso only about four or five months last year. Before coming to El Paso, the couple had a small apartment in New Orleans. He got hurt and was unable to work and they ended up on the streets.

Ponce said he has an ex-wife and three teenage children in Juárez that he could have stayed with but he didn't want to leave Roberts alone in El Paso.

In El Paso, they set up a camp under trees in a drainage lot on Westmoreland Drive next to the Sam's Club neighboring the Cielo Vista Walmart. When they had money, they would rent a motel room to wash up.

They were able to use restrooms and find food in the busy Cielo Vista Mall and the Fountains of Farah, which Ponce mistakenly referred to as "Savannah mall."

"We had a bunch of blankets and we would stay there. Every morning, when we got up early, we would go to the Walmart, to drink coffee or have breakfast," Ponce said.

On the morning of Aug. 3, the mass shooting broke out when they were at Walmart, Ponce said.

After the attack, police blocked off the Walmart area as a giant crime scene and they were unable to return to the camp. They took a Sun Metro bus to Downtown El Paso. They slept and stayed wherever they could for the next several days.

“After the massacre occurred at the Walmart, we were only there about two or three weeks more. We moved out of El Paso," he said.

They went to Albuquerque and then Denver, Ponce said. The snow and cold in Colorado made it difficult to find work. A Christian woman helped them by purchasing Greyhound bus tickets for them from Denver to Charlotte, North Carolina.

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It was on that Jan. 5 bus ride that Roberts read an El Paso Times article about the Walmart shooting mystery hero, which Ponce claims is him.

Ponce left a voice message with an El Paso Times reporter at 4:24 a.m. Jan. 6, saying he was the man who saved the baby.

They decided to get off the bus and stay in Memphis because things looked like they might be good in that Midsouth city.

"When we got here, we struggled," Ponce said. "We were in the streets until I got to know people, people I work with, and they gave us a hand.”

Ponce said he has heart problems but hopes to keep working, then save enough money to buy a small car. He wants eventually to return to Atlanta.

"We are just waiting to see what God sends us," he said. "If I have to go, we all have to go sometime. For now, we keep fighting, keep moving forward with my wife.”

GoFundMe

A GoFundMe fundraising page titled "El Paso Walmart shooting hero" featuring Ponce was created Jan. 6, the same day he first called the El Paso Times.

The page, which lists "medical illness" as its reason for seeking help, has a fundraising goal of $50,000. It had no donations as of noon Wednesday.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/el-paso-walmart-shooting-hero

Daniel Borunda may be reached at 915-546-6102; dborunda@elpasotimes.com; @BorundaDaniel on Twitter.

Stay up-to-date on everything related to the El Paso shooting. Subscribe here.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Memphis laborer who claims to be Walmart mystery hero struggles with homelessness

Suspect convicted in shooting that paralyzed Whitehaven man .
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis man was convicted after a shooting that left a former friend paralyzed from the waist down. On May 2, 2019, James Moore and the victim were reportedly involved in some sort of altercation inside the Street Hogs Club in the 900 block of East Brooks Road. Later that evening, the victim said he was walking a friend to her car at a nearby Mapco Express when the 29-year-old suspect confronted and then shot him three times in the chest, once in the side and twice in the back.The victim was transported to the Regional Medical Center in extremely critical condition.

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