Brownsville florist makes floral arrangements for Uvalde school shooting victims

Carey Jo Alfaro-Luna had not heard about the mass shooting that occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead on the day it happened on May 24.

Alfaro-Luna, a Brownsville school teacher, found out one day later while she was talking to her dad, and he asked her about it. She was coming back from Edinburg for medical treatment, she recalled. She started reading the news reports about the school shooting.

An 18-year-old man armed with an assault rifle entered Robb Elementary School and shot and killed the children and their teachers. Several others were injured.

Carey Jo said she had a hard time sleeping that night. She wanted to help the Uvalde community and prayed about what she could do, she said. “Usually when that happens, I know it is kind of like a call,” for me to pray.

The following day she called The Flower Patch flower and gift shop in Uvalde to offer her services as Carey Jo is a florist herself.

“The first thing that came to my mind was 22 funeral casket arrangements,” she said including the husband of one of the teachers who died two days later of a heart attack.

Carey Jo sent photos of the arrangements she had done in the past and the owner told her she would welcome the help. She told her principal she had volunteered to help in Uvalde.

“I just felt like that is what I needed to do. I’m a soldier, a retired soldier, so my motto is here to serve,” Carey Jo said.

Carey Jo Alfaro-Luna recounts how she spent her time making the memorial and funeral arrangements at Uvalde’s The Flower Patch shop for the memorials and funeral service for the victims of the school shooting Thursday afternoon, June 9, 2022, in her Brownsville home. A local florist, she had been searching for a way to help the Uvalde community and saw the shop’s owner on the news and reached out to her to offer help. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Carey Jo and her husband Miguel loaded up their vehicle and headed toward Uvalde. Carey Jo called her son, M. Seth Sweatt, who lives in Arkansas and told him what they were going to do, and he wanted to help, too. Sweatt is also a veteran. He drove 11 hours so he could help. “This is how I raised my children, step up when somebody needs,” she said.

Carey Jo helped make floral arrangements for the children and teacher and started to get emotional because she once taught elementary school. She estimates she made 10 to 12 arrangements while she was there.

“I was okay with it until you start getting requests for the same person and then you kind of start getting to know that person,” because people would tell you what that person liked, she said.

She was told Maite Rodriguez, 10, liked the color lime green and the person ordering the arrangement asked if the color could be included in it.

“That is when it started to sink in,” Carey Jo said.

As more arrangements were being made it became more difficult, she said. “It was hard when I spoke to the principal because I know she is beating herself up about it. It’s been hard. I haven’t had my time to go in the corner and do what I know I need to do and grieve,” she said trying to hold back tears.

Carey Jo said she and other florists worked eight hours a day making the arrangements and most of the florists made the arrangements while standing up. They were told to use whatever flowers they wanted because they had been donated.

There were lilies, daises, roses, and other types of flowers. They used lime-green, purple, yellow, red and blue ribbons.

Carey Jo Alfaro-Luna recounts how she worked to make floral arrangements while her husband and son delivered them to ceremonies and homes at Uvalde’s The Flower Patch shop for the victims of the school shooting Thursday afternoon, June 9, 2022, in her Brownsville home. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

While Carey Jo and the others were making the floral arrangements, Miguel and Seth would drive around Uvalde and deliver them, she said. They would also help clean the area.

Carey Jo and her family helped for about two days and then drove home to go back to work.

She never imagined she would help make funeral floral arrangements for children and teachers killed in a mass shooting.

“By the time we came home it was hard and it’s still hard,” she said, adding it is something she will never forget.

She said the residents of Uvalde will need time to heal from this tragedy and that could take a long time. The florist she worked for said she had floral arrangement orders up to June 14.

“There is going to have to be something positive to come out of this. I don’t know what it is right now, they were babies,” she said, as she wiped away a tear.

Reflecting on what happened in Uvalde, Carey Jo believes if the parents of the 18-year-old had been more involved in his life, they might have seen the warning signs of a troubled teen. “I call it negligence. I call it negligent parenting.”

Carey Jo, who served in both the U.S. Air Force and U.S Army and did several combat tours, said gun control is not the answer. “Do we need more restrictive laws as to how a weapon can get into somebody’s hands, yeah, we need an older age, we need background checks,” she said.

“This boy fell through the cracks. The signs were all there,” Carey Jo said.