Stories have begun to emerge about the 19 fourth-graders and their two teachers who were gunned down behind a barricaded door at their primary school in Texas, shedding light on the deep anguish their killing leaves behind.
One student was an avid runner. Another loved baseball and video games. One girl sensed something was wrong and wanted to skip school on Tuesday, when a teenaged gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, killing 21.
Vincent Salazar said his 10-year-old daughter, Layla, loved to swim and dance to Tik Tok videos. She was fast — she won six races at the school’s field day — and Salazar proudly posted a photo of Layla showing off two of her ribbons on Facebook.
Each morning as he drove her to school in his pickup, Salazar would play “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses and they would sing along, he said. “She was just a whole lot of fun.”
The shooting has deeply shaken the small community of Uvalde, about 130km (80 miles) west of San Antonio, where relatives and friends are in a state of shock and mourning for the loved ones they lost.
All of the dead were in the same fourth-grade classroom where the shooter barricaded himself and opened fire indiscriminately on the children and their teachers, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told a news conference on Wednesday.
‘Sweetest little boy’
Manny Renfro lost his 8-year-old grandson, Uziyah Garcia, in the attack.
“The sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known,” Renfro said. “I’m not just saying that because he was my grandkid.”
Veronica Luevanos, whose 10-year-old daughter Jailah Nicole Silguero was among the victims, tearfully told Univision that her daughter did not want to go to school on Tuesday and seemed to sense something bad was going to happen. Jailah’s cousin also died in the shooting.
Teacher Eva Mireles, 44, was remembered as a loving mother and wife. “She was adventurous … She is definitely going to be very missed,” said 34-year-old relative Amber Ybarra, of San Antonio.
Among those also left to grieve were relatives of 10-year-old Eliahna Garcia.
“She was very happy and very outgoing,” said Eliahna’s aunt, Siria Arizmendi, a fifth-grade teacher at Flores Elementary School in the same school district. “She loved to dance and play sports. She was big into family, enjoyed being with the family.”
My precious angel you are loved so deeply. In my eyes you are not a victim but a survivor. I love you always and past forever baby sister, may your wings soar higher then you could ever dream. Till we meet again Tess Marie, love your big sissy🤍 pic.twitter.com/ziEAe6bsFE
— Faith Mata (@faithmataa) May 25, 2022
Jose Flores Jr, 10, loved baseball and video games, his father Jose Flores Sr told CNN. “He was always full of energy,” Flores said. “Ready to play ’til the night.” He was a great big brother to his two younger siblings, his father said.
Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas, mourned the death of her 10-year-old cousin, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming.
“He was just a loving … little boy, just enjoying life, not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen,” she said. “He was very bubbly, loved to dance with his brothers, his mom. This has just taken a toll on all of us.”
Garza lamented what she described as lax gun laws. “We should have more restrictions, especially if these kids are not in their right state of mind and all they want to do is just hurt people, especially innocent children going to the schools,” Garza said.
Tributes pour in
In the hours after the shooting, pictures of smiling children were posted on social media with tributes and prayers.
Faith Mata wrote a post for her little sister, Tess Marie Mata, 10, on Twitter. “My precious angel you are loved so deeply,” she wrote. “I love you always and past forever baby sister, may your wings soar higher than you could ever dream.”
My baby sister has finally been found in a classroom…thank you for everyone sending their love to my family and I 🤍 All I ask is that you hug your loved ones tonight and tell them you love them, you never know when you won’t have the chance to anymore#EnoughIsEnough pic.twitter.com/1dKuIwdav7
— kadence elizabeth (@kkadence_) May 25, 2022
Kadence Elizabeth, the older sister of Makenna Lee Elrod, 10, wrote: “All I ask is that you hug your loved ones tonight and tell them you love them, you never know when you won’t have the chance to anymore.”
And 10-year-old Ellie Garcia’s father, Steven, wrote on his Facebook page, “Our Ellie was a doll and was the happiest ever.”
Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell fought back tears on Wednesday as he spoke of the children and their teachers.
“You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” Harrell said of the children during a news conference. “That they loved coming to school, that they were just precious individuals.”
The two teachers “poured their heart and soul” into their work, Harrell also said.