Uvalde, Texas – Gilbert Limones and a funeral home worker were two of the shooter’s first targets, the killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, and Limones has spent most of his life helping to prepare for the funerals of young victims and comforting broken families.
Limones switched roles on Sunday burial Companion for that of a preacher trying to comfort and explain horrors to a congregation who resists easy answers. He is also the pastor of Casa El Shaddai, a small church less than a mile from where the slaughter occurred.
“When tragedy happens, all the enemy needs is a willing ship,” Limones told his congregation of about 35, who first met in an old restaurant that has been converted into a prayer room.
While Limones suffered no physical injuries, he said he was exhausted and wracked with guilt that there was nothing he could do to stop the bloodshed. He has spent hours in tears or prayer, sometimes both at the same time.
Still, Limones tried to find the words to placate his part of a heavily Hispanic town of 16,000 that is sad, confused and raw with emotion nearly two weeks after the slaughter. Satan brought confusion and pain, he said, but believers have a defense.
“Church, you’re armed with this,” he said, holding up a Bible. It was Limones’ first sermon since the murder; He was too busy working at the funeral home to serve last week.
Limones, who preaches in both Spanish and English, has tawny hair and a big smile in happy times. He was animated in front of the gathering, which is just a right turn and another left turn from Robb Elementary School and the Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home. The two sit on opposite sides of Geraldine Street, near where 18-year-old Salvador Ramos shot his grandmother at home before the school was attacked, wounding her in the face.
On the morning of May 24, Limones and Cody Briseno, another undertaker at Hillcrest, heard about a vehicular accident. A gray Ford pickup had pulled up in a concrete ditch behind the school and across from the funeral home, and soon, according to a search warrant, they saw a man dressed all in black by the passenger door.
Authorities said Limones and Briseno approached the man but backed away when they noticed he was putting a magazine in a rifle. A gunman identified as Ramos shot her multiple times.
Limones said he remembered hearing someone yell for a gun and then turn around only to hear the “pop, pop, pop” of gunfire behind them. The shooter was about 46 yards from him but somehow missed, Limones said.
Limones said he got away as quickly as possible, flinching at every shot and calling the police as soon as possible. “I was screaming, yelling at 911,” he said.
But Ramos aimed the gun at the school’s exterior and entered the building through a door that authorities say was unlocked when a teacher pulled it shut. “I saw everything,” Limones said.
Inside, 19 fourth-graders along with two teachers were mortally wounded as police lining the hallways waited more than an hour to confront and kill Ramos. While nagging questions remain about the police response and exactly what happened at the school, the funerals of the victims began last week, with Hillcrest officiating five of them.
So, despite his confrontation with the killer, Limones returned to his job at the family funeral home, which is small and quickly overwhelmed. She asked for donations, including tissues and cleaning supplies, and received help from undertakers outside of Uvalde.
Jason Horn, a volunteer funeral director from Longview, Texas, described working in shifts with others at Hillcrest to prepare young victims for burial.
“We had five cases that were extremely difficult and all five families were able to see their babies and all decided to proceed with open coffins,” he said in a video of the effort. Just writing obituaries took time: reports and photos of the dead made up most of the three pages of Thursday’s Uvalde Leader-News.
Robb Elementary’s happiest victims are recovering. Arnulfo Reyes, fourth grade teacher who was hospitalized with gunshot wounds, posted a public message on social media last week thanking friends for their prayers and love.
“I have a long journey ahead of me, but I know I will get through it. My thoughts and prayers are with the families who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones,” said Reyes, who runs a small plant and gift shop when he’s not teaching.
Others have to deal with a mix of emotions. After a school board meeting Friday night, Angela Turner, the aunt of shooting victim Maranda Mathis, shivered with anger as she spoke about the impact the shooting had on her family.
“I have a fourth grader who was in the room next door and is scared. My niece has died. I have a 6 year old who just said to me, ‘I don’t want to go to school. Why to be shot?’ I have one who goes to junior high. I have a third grader,” Turner said. “We want answers as to where security will take place. It was all a joke. I am so disappointed in our school district.”
Another mother, Dawn Poitevent, said her 7-year-old son, who was due to transfer to Robb Elementary next year, was now afraid of school and wanted to stay on his current campus.
“What he knows now is that if he goes to another school, he’ll be shot by a bad man,” she said.
It’s unclear where Poitevents’ son might end up, but it won’t be at Robb, which Superintendent Hal Harrell has said will not reopen.
In his sermon, Limones said he believes the victims are in a better place, and he recounted the hundreds of people who have come to the city with donations of food, water, prayers and more. Uvalde, he said, “is surrounded by love”.
At the moment, while the townspeople are badly hurt and searching for answers, they need to come together, he said. God’s justice will ultimately prevail.
“Don’t you think the shooter needs to talk to our father about what he did?” Limones said.
More on the shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting
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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/05/uvalde-gunmans-first-target-recounts-terror-in-sermon/ The early target of the Uvalde marksman tells of terror in a sermon