Cindy and Kyu Cho took their two sons to Allen Premium Outlets to exchange inappropriate birthday gifts for their eldest, who was just 6 years old.
Sisters Daniela and Sofia Mendoza, both in elementary school, were there with their mother.
Aishwarya Thatikonda came to shop with a friend before she had to head to work for her job at a general contracting firm.
Warm sunny days bring crowds and family groups to the sprawling outdoor mall in an upscale suburb north of Dallas for the most American of activities. On Saturday, it became a different view for all Americans: the site of another mass shooting. By the time a police officer shot and killed the gunman, eight people had suffered fatal injuries, including three young children. At least seven other people were injured.
It was the country's second deadliest mass shooting this year, indiscriminately wiping out individuals, and nearly entire families.
The two Mendoza brothers, 11 and 8, were killed. Their mother was shot and hospitalized. Cho's parents and their 3-year-old son, James, died. Their 6 year old son, William, was shot and survived.
Thatikonda, 26, died, as did a security guard named Christian LaCour, who was 20. Elio Cumana-Rivas, a 32-year-old man from Dallas, also died, the state's Department of Public Safety said on Monday.
The gunman appeared to adhere to white supremacist ideology, based on social media accounts investigators believe belonged to him. But the motive is unclear.
The region has become a magnet for Asians, especially South Asians, many of whom are professionals working for the many large companies based in Plano and nearby Frisco.
About 25 miles outside of Dallas, Allen is one of the thriving suburbs north of the city whose population has exploded in recent years. The surrounding area is home to a number of major American corporations, including PGA in Frisco, which was named the nation's fastest growing major city by the Census Bureau in 2020.
Allen, a former railroad town, is now home to a $60 million stadium that holds 18,000 people, which ESPN called “a high school football palace” when it opened a decade ago. Allen has continued to grow since then, passing 100,000 people in the 2020 census.
“We are one of the safest cities in the state and country, even though this person randomly chose to visit our city to transmit crime,” Allen mayor Kenneth Fulk said in an email. He declined to comment further.
The Chos, a Korean-American family, live in a two-story house in a newer neighborhood in Dallas, 14 miles south of the outlet mall.
Mr. Cho works as an immigration attorney at a firm in Richardson, Texas. Profile Cho on the company's website says he was born in South Korea in the early 1990s and grew up in Dallas. “As an immigrant, Kyu has a deep pride, respect, and appreciation for the American Dream,” the profile says. Mr. Cho learned Spanish because he represented many Spanish-speaking immigrants in court.
In her spare time, the profile says, she participates in church activities and enjoys “watching her two sons grow up.”
Their neighbor, Kristy Kim, had a son the same age as William, 6 who survived. The two families have attended birthday parties and played together since 2018, when the subdivision was created. Both families attended New Song Church, a large Korean Baptist congregation near Carrollton.
“They were quiet and reserved,” said Ms. Kim on Monday. “They're real homeboys, but they're so nice.”
The area north of Dallas is one of the places where “Asian immigrants are a driving force for growth,” as Texas Monthly put it in its 2021 cover story about “The Newest Texans.”
The Dallas area has the state's largest Korean-American and Indian populations, according to the Pew Research Center in 2019. Hindu temples dot the suburban landscape north of the city. And Dallas recently launched bilingual street signs in an older area known informally as Koreatown; “New Koreatown” is in Carrollton, with an H Mart and lots of restaurants.
State Representative Mihaela Plesa represents the district where the Cho family lives. The area includes parts of Allen, Plano, Richardson, and Dallas. More than half of the population identifies as a minority and the largest demographic is Asian, said chief of staff Ms. Plesa, Karrol Rimal.
Makeup has changed, especially in recent years, due to population growth pushing some people out of Dallas and further into the suburbs. Several companies have moved their headquarters to the area in recent years, including Toyota nearly a decade ago.
“Ten to 20 years ago, this was not yet developed,” said Pak Rimal. “Twenty to 30 years ago, it was rural. Now suburban, almost urban.
Daniela Mendoza, a fourth grader, and her sister Sofia, a second grader, are elementary school students in Wylie, a town southeast of Allen, said David Vinson, superintendent of the Wylie Independent School District, in an email to parents.
Their mother, Ilda, was in critical condition on Monday, Vinson said.
“Our love for our children and for each other will help us get through this,” wrote Mr. Vinson. “Daniela and Sofia will not be forgotten. Hug your kids, and tell them you love them.
Flags at the girls' school, Cheri Cox Elementary, flew at half-mast on Monday. Krista Wilson, the principal, calls the girls “sunshine.”
Aishwarya Thatikonda works for a general contracting firm in Frisco, where her boss, Srinivas Chaluvadi, describes her as a goddaughter to her. Miss Thatikonda celebrated family birthdays at her home, and came to see her for a traditional Hindu blessing on her own birthday, which will be held again next week. Last year, he accompanied her to her brother's wedding in India.
On Saturday, Mr. Chaluvadi received a call from an architect who was waiting at work for Ms. Thatikonda, who usually doesn't show up on time. He went to his home in McKinney, which he shared with a few roommates, then to the mall, and finally to some local hospitals. It was only on Sunday that he was confirmed as one of the victims.
Mr Chaluvadi described Ms Thatikonda as a diligent worker who was “indispensable” at his company. He also hopes to get married later this year, he said; her parents were in the process of “finding the perfect boy for her”. Instead, they are now arranging to bring his remains back to Hyderabad.
Ashok Kolla, treasurer of the North American Telugu Association, an organization serving American Indians, is working with Ms. Thatikonda in India is in that complicated process. He said he had several cousins in the Dallas area, but no immediate family here.
“He came here with a lot of dreams,” he said.
Mr. Kolla says he has advice for international students and other young immigrant workers in the United States: “Be careful wherever they go,” he says, and “carry emergency contacts with you to make it easier for law enforcement to contact their families.”