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By ELLIOT SPAGAT and ACACIA CORONADO | Associated Press
UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Desperation turned to heart-wrenching sorrow for families of grade schoolers killed after an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in their Texas classroom and began shooting, killing at least 19 children and their two teachers.
By Wednesday morning, many were left with the grim reality of an unimaginable horror as the names of the young victims of Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School in the southwestern town of Uvalde began to emerge.
Among them were relatives of 10-year-old Eliahna Garcia, who learned late Tuesday that she was among those killed, her aunt, Siria Arizmemdi said.
“She was very happy and very outgoing,” Arizmendi, a fifth-grade teacher at Flores Elementary School in the same school district, said Wednesday. “She loved to dance and play sports. She was big into family, enjoyed being with the family.”
Veronica Luevanos, whose 10-year-old daughter, Jaliah Nicole Silguero, was among the victims, told Univision in a tearful interview that her daughter did not want to go to school Tuesday and that the girl seemed to sense something was going to happen. Jaliah’s cousin also died in the shooting.
One man walked away from a civic center where desperate relatives had gathered for news late Tuesday sobbing into his phone: “She is gone.” Behind the building, a woman stood alone, alternately crying and yelling into her phone, shaking her fist and stamping her feet.
All of the dead were in the same fourth-grade classroom, where the shooter barricaded himself and opened fire on the children and teachers, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN on Wednesday morning.
Manny Renfro said he got word Tuesday that his grandson, 8-year-old Uziyah Garcia, was among those killed.
“The sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known,” Renfro said. “I’m not just saying that because he was my grandkid.”
Renfro said Uziyah last visited him in San Angelo during spring break. “We started throwing the football together and I was teaching him pass patterns. Such a fast little boy and he could catch a ball so good,” Renfro said. “There were certain plays that I would call that he would remember and he would do it exactly like we practiced.”
Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas, mourned the death of her young cousin, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming.
“He was just a loving 10-year-old little boy, just enjoying life, not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen today,” she said. “He was very bubbly, loved to dance with his brothers, his mom. This has just taken a toll on all of us.”
She also 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.
Arizmendi also spoke angrily, through tears, about how the shooter managed to get a gun.
“It’s just difficult to understand or to put into words,” she said. “I just don’t know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old. What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?”
Slain fourth-grade 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.
As Ybarra prepared to give blood for the wounded, she wondered how no one noticed trouble with the shooter in time to stop him.
“To me, it’s more about raising mental health awareness,” said Ybarra, a wellness coach who attended Robb Elementary herself. “Someone could possibly have seen a dramatic change before something like this happened.”
Mireles posted a letter on the school’s website at the start of the school year, introducing herself to her new students.
“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” Mireles wrote, noting she had been teaching 17 years, loved running and hiking, and had a “supportive, fun, and loving family.” She mentioned that her husband was a school district police officer, and they had a grown daughter and three “furry friends.”
In the hours after the shooting, pictures of smiling children were posted on social media, their families begging for information. Classes had been winding down for the year and each school day had a theme. Tuesday’s was Footloose and Fancy. Students were supposed to wear a nice outfit with fun or fancy shoes.
Even for the survivors, there was grief.
Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting. She began frantically texting her niece, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary, until Auguste heard from her sister that the child was OK.
Later Tuesday night, Auguste said her niece asked, “Tia, why did they do this to us? We’re good kids, we didn’t do anything wrong.”
Adolfo Cruz, a 69-year-old air conditioning repairman, remained outside the school Tuesday night, waiting for word about his 10-year-old granddaughter, Eliajha Cruz Torres. He had driven to the scene after a tearful and terrifying call from his daughter shortly after the first reports. He called the waiting the heaviest moment of his life.
Federico Torres rushed to the school Tuesday and waited for news about his 10-year-old son Rogelio. He told KHOU-TV on Tuesday he was praying that “my son is found safe. … Please if you know anything, let us know.”
Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, which is located across the street from Robb Elementary School, said in a Facebook post that it would be assisting families of the shooting victims with no cost for funerals.
Jim Vertuno in Uvalde contributed to this report. Heather Hollingsworth contributed from Mission, Kansas. Jamie Stengle contributed from Dallas. Don Babwin contributed from Chicago. Stephen Groves contributed from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Roxana Hegeman contributed from Wichita, Kansas.