UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Medical assistant Angel Garza rushed to Robb Elementary School soon after a gunman opened fire on a classroom of grade schoolers and immediately found a girl covered in blood among the terrified children streaming out of the building.
“I’m not hurt. He shot my best friend,” the girl told Garza when he offered help. “She’s not breathing. She was just trying to call the cops.”
Her friend was Amerie Jo Garza — Angel Garza’s stepdaughter.
Amerie was among 19 children who died, along with two teachers, when the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom Tuesday at the school in this southwestern Texas town and began to kill.
Amerie was a happy child who made the honor roll and loved to paint, draw and work in clay. “She was very creative,” said her grandmother Dora Mendoza. “She was my baby. Whenever she saw flowers she would draw them.”
She had just gotten her first cellphone for her 10th birthday. Angel Garza recalled the look on her face.
“It just lit up with the happiest expression,” he said.
Now, he’s left to wonder about her final moments. Did she say anything to the shooter? Did he see her reach for her cellphone?
Garza and his family are among so many still sorting through unimaginable grief.
Vincent Salazar said his 10-year-old daughter, Layla, loved 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 ribbons on Facebook.
Each morning as he drove her to school in his pickup, Salazar would play “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns N’ Roses and they’d sing along.
“She was just a whole lot of fun,” he said.
Manny Renfro lost his 8-year-old grandson, Uziyah Garcia, calling him the “sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known.”
Uziyah last visited his grandfather 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 … and he would do it exactly like we practiced.”
Javier Cazares’ 9-year-old daughter Jacklyn was in the classroom with a group of five friends, including her second cousin, Annabelle Rodriguez.
“They are all gone now,” Cazares said of the girls as the extended families of the slain cousins mourned and comforted each other Wednesday over barbecue.
Cazares described his daughter as a “firecracker” who “had a voice, she didn’t like bullies, she didn’t like kids being picked on.”
“All in all, full of love. She had a big heart,” he said.
Veronica Luevanos, whose 10-year-old daughter, Jailah Nicole Silguero, was among the victims, tearfully told Univision that Jailah did not want to go to school Tuesday and seemed to sense something bad was going to happen. Jailah’s cousin also died in the shooting.
Jailah’s friend, Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo, also was killed and her aunt noted Naveah’s first name is Heaven spelled backward. In a Facebook posting, Yvonne White described Nevaeh and Jailah as “Our Angels.”
Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell fought back tears as he spoke of the children and their teachers.
“You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” Harrell said of the children. “That they loved coming to school, that they were just precious individuals.”
The two teachers “poured their heart and soul” into their work, Harrell said.
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.
In a post on the school’s website at the start of the school year, Mireles introduced herself to her new students.
“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” she 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.”
The other slain teacher, 48-year-old 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 the Detroit Free Press the family was struggling to grasp that while Garcia’s son trained for combat, it was his mother who was shot to death.
Relatives of 10-year-old Eliahna Garcia recalled her love of 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 district. “She loved to dance and play sports. She was big into family, enjoyed being with the family.”
Arizmendi 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?”
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.”
Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, which is located across the street from Robb Elementary, said in a Facebook post that it was assisting families of the shooting victims with no cost for funerals. GoFundMe pages were set up for many of the victims, including one on behalf of all victims that has raised $2.8 million.
For the survivors, there was searing grief.
Lorena Auguste heard about the shooting while substitute teaching at Uvalde High School and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary, until Auguste heard from her sister that the child was OK.
Auguste said her niece asked her that night, “Tia, why did they do this to us? We’re good kids, we didn’t do anything wrong.”
Associated Press writers Jim Vertuno in Uvalde, Texas; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; 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; Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Bernard Condon in New York; and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed.