UVALDE, Texas (AP) — A college student was an avid runner, so fast she swept field day races. Another learned football games from his grandfather. A girl felt something was wrong and wanted to skip school.
On Wednesday, stories about the lives of the 19 fourth-graders – “precious people” according to the school district leader – and their two teachers, who were, began to surface shot down behind a barricaded door at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Southwest Texas.
Vincent Salazar said his 10-year-old daughter, Layla, loves 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 loops on Facebook.
Every morning as he drove her to school in his pickup truck, Salazar would play Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and they would sing along, he said.
“She was just a lot of fun,” he said.
Manny Renfro lost his 8-year-old grandson, Uziyah Garcia, in the shooting.
“The cutest little boy I’ve ever known,” said Renfro. “I’m not just saying that because he was my grandson.”
Renfro said Uziyah last visited him during spring break in San Angelo. “We started throwing the football together and I taught him passing patterns. Such a fast little boy and he was so good at catching a ball,” said Renfro. “There were certain pieces I would name that he would remember and he would do it exactly as we practiced.”
Veronica Luevanos, whose 10-year-old daughter, Jailah Nicole Silguero, was among the victims, tearfully told Univision on Tuesday that her daughter didn’t want to go to school and seemed to sense something bad was about to happen. Jailah’s cousin also died in the shooting.
All of the dead were in the same fourth-grade classroom where the gunman barricaded himself Tuesday and opened fire on the children and their teachers, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference on Wednesday. He said the shooter used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in the attack and posted on Facebook just before the shooting: “I’m going to shoot an elementary school.”
Principal Hal Harrell fought back tears as he spoke of the children and their teachers.
“You can tell they were loved just by their angelic smiles,” Harrell said of the children. “That they liked coming to school, that they were just valuable individuals.”
The two teachers “put their hearts and souls into their work,” Harrell said.
Teacher Eva Mireles, 44, was remembered as a loving mother and wife. “She was adventurous. … She will definitely be missed greatly,” said relative Amber Ybarra, 34, of San Antonio.
In a post on the school’s website, Mireles introduced herself to her new students at the beginning of the school year.
“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have an amazing year ahead of us!” She wrote, noting that she had been teaching for 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.”
The other teacher killed, Irma Garcia, wrote about her four children, including one who was in the Marines, in a letter introducing herself to the class. Garcia’s 21-year-old nephew, John Martinez, told this Detroit FreePress The family struggled to understand that while Garcia’s son was training for combat, he shot his mother.
Relatives of 10-year-old Eliahna Garcia recalled her love for family.
“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 loved family and enjoyed being with family.”
Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas, mourned the loss of her 10-year-old cousin, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer swim.
“He was just a loving … little boy just enjoying life and not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen,” she said. “He was very lively, loved to dance with his brothers and his mother. That just took us all away.”
She bemoaned what she described as lax gun laws.
“We should have more restrictions, especially when these kids aren’t in the right shape and they just want to hurt people, especially innocent kids who are going to school,” Garza said.
Arizmendi also spoke angrily and in tears about how the shooter managed to get a gun.
“It’s just hard to understand or put into words,” she said. “I just don’t know how people can sell a gun like that to an 18-year-old. What will he use it for if not for this purpose?”
As Ybarra prepared to donate blood for the wounded, she marveled that no one noticed problems with the gunner in time to stop him.
“For me, it’s more about raising awareness about mental health,” said Ybarra, a wellness instructor who attended Robb Elementary herself. “Someone could possibly have seen a dramatic change before something like this happened.”
There was sadness even for the survivors.
Lorena Auguste was a substitute teacher 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 fine.
Auguste said her niece asked her that night, “Tia, why did they do this to us? We are good kids, we did nothing wrong.”
The Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, located across from Robb Elementary School, said in a Facebook post that it would help families of shooting victims at no cost to funerals. GoFundMe pages have been set up for many of the victims, including one on behalf of all victims that has raised more than $1.5 million.
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