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El Paso shopper, recently arrived from Mexico, took a bullet for his wife

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Amber Ruiz and Jazmyn Blake embrace during a vigil a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019.
Amber Ruiz and Jazmyn Blake embrace during a vigil a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. -
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Juan de Dios Velazquez had only moved to El Paso, Texas, with his wife Estela Nicolasa from Ciudad Juarez, just across the border in Mexico, six months before they were caught in Saturday's mass shooting at a Walmart store.

Juan de Dios, 77, and Estela, 65, were about to enter the store to buy groceries, just like any normal day, when shots rang out, according to their niece Norma Ramos.

He threw himself in front of his wife.

"He was arriving at the store when he was shot at close range and the bullet passed through him and hit my aunt Estela," Ramos said in a phone interview from Ciudad Juarez, where she lives.

"Because he protected her, he took shots in his back," said Ramos, who said she had heard the account of the shooting from other family members who were able to speak with the couple.

Juan de Dios has already had several surgeries at the Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso but still may need more because the bullet punctured his organs, Ramos said.

Estela, who was hit in the stomach, was also operated on and is now stable. The medical centre did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Saturday's rampage - which killed 20 people, including seven Mexicans - appeared to be a hate crime.

Police have cited a manifesto they attributed to the suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

El Paso is a heavily Latino city on the US -Mexico border.

The rampage has sparked outrage in Mexico, where officials are contemplating litigation alleging that the incident was terrorism against Mexicans living in the United States. That could open the door to an eventual extradition request for the gunman.