One student was an avid runner, so fast that she swept the races. Another was learning football moves from his grandfather. A girl felt that something bad was going to happen and she did not want to go to school.
Stories began to emerge Wednesday about the lives of the 19 fourth graders and their two teachers who lost their lives behind a locked door at Robb Elementary School in the town of Uvalde, southwest Texas.
Vincent Salazar said his 10-year-old daughter, Layla, loved swimming and dancing in videos she posted on TikTok. She was fast, she won six races at the school field day, and Salazar proudly posted a picture of Layla on Facebook showing off two of her medals.
Every morning, as he drove her to school in his truck, Salazar would put on Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’Mine” and sing it together, she said.
“It was so much fun,” he said.
Manny Renfro said he received word Tuesday that his grandson, 8-year-old Uziyah Garcia, was among those killed.
“He was the sweetest boy I’ve ever met,” she said. “I’m not just saying that because he was my grandson.”
Renfro said that Uziyah last visited him in San Angelo during spring break. “We started playing football together and I was teaching him passing patterns. He was a very fast kid and he could catch the ball very well,” he added. “There were some plays that I would name and he would remember, and he would do them exactly as we had practiced them.”
Javier Cazares said he learned Tuesday afternoon that his 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, had died in her classroom. He was with a group of five girls, including his second cousin, Annabelle Rodriguez, who were very good friends.
“They are all dead,” Cazares said.
The families of the slain cousins gathered Wednesday to comfort each other over a barbecue.
Cazares pointed out that her daughter was “explosive” that she had “a voice, she did not like bullies, she did not like children to be bothered”,
“She was full of love. She had a big heart,” she commented.
Veronica Luevanos, whose 10-year-old daughter, Jailah Nicole Silguero, was among the victims, told Univision through tears that her daughter did not want to go to school on Tuesday and seemed to sense that something bad was going to happen. Jailah’s cousin was also killed in the shooting.
All of the dead were from the same classroom, where the shooter barricaded himself in Tuesday and began shooting at children and their teachers, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference on Wednesday. He said the shooter used an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle in the attack, posting on Facebook shortly before the shooting that “I’m going to shoot up an elementary school.”
School district Superintendent Hal Harrell fought back tears as he spoke about the children and their teachers.
“You can tell from their angelic smiles that they were well loved,” Harrell said of the children. “That they loved coming to school, that they were beautiful people.”
The two teachers “poured themselves heart and soul” into their work, Harrell added.
Teacher Eva Mireles, 44, was remembered as a loving mother and wife. She “she was adventurous. I would definitely say wonderful things about her. She is going to be sorely missed,” said her relative Amber Ybarra, of San Antonio.
At the beginning of the school year, Mireles posted a letter on the school website introducing himself to his new students.
“Welcome to 4th grade! We have a fantastic year ahead of us!” the teacher wrote, noting that she had been teaching for 17 years. She said that she loved running and hiking, and that she had a “supportive, fun and loving family.” She mentioned that her husband was a school district police officer and that they had an adult daughter and three “furry friends.”
The other teacher who lost her life, Irma Garcia, wrote about her four children, including one who was in the Marine Corps, in a letter introducing her to the class. Garcia’s 21-year-old nephew, John Martinez, told the Detroit Free Press that the family struggled to understand that while Garcia’s son was training for combat, it was his mother who was killed in a shooting.
Relatives of Eliahna Garcia, 10, remembered the love she had for her family.
“She was very happy and 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 liked the family a lot, she liked being with the family,” she added.
Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas, mourned the death of her cousin, Xavier Javier López, who had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of summer so he could dedicate himself to swimming.
“He was just a loving 10-year-old boy enjoying life, not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen today,” he said. “He was very jovial. He loved to dance with his brothers and with his mother. This has affected us all.”
He lamented what he called lax gun regulation.
“We should have more restrictions, especially if these kids are not in their right mind and all they want to do is hurt people, especially innocent kids who go to school,” Garza said.
Arizmendi also spoke upset, and through tears, about how the assailant managed to obtain a gun.
“It’s hard to understand or explain in words,” he said. “I just don’t know how people can sell that kind of gun to an 18-year-old. What are you going to use it for if not for that?” he questioned.
As Ybarra prepared to donate blood for the wounded, he reflected how no one could detect possible problems in the attacker in time to stop him.
“For me, it’s more about mental health awareness,” said Ybarra, a wellness coach who attended Robb Elementary. “Someone could have seen a drastic change before something like this happened.”
Even for the survivors, there was pain.
Lorena Auguste was a substitute teacher at Uvalde High School when she found out about the shooting. She began frantically texting her niece, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary, until her sister informed her that the little girl was fine.
Auguste said her niece asked her that night, “Aunt, why are they doing this to us? We’re good kids, we don’t do anything wrong.”
Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, which is across the street from the school, said in a Facebook post that it will help victims’ families by offering its services free of charge. GoFundMe pages were created for many of the victims, including one on behalf of all victims that has raised more than $1.5 million.
Associated Press reporters Jim Vertuno in Uvalde, Texas; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kan.; Jamie Stengle in Dallas; Don Babwin in Chicago; Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kansas; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.