UVALDE, Texas — On the day the nation sets aside to remember those killed in war, Uvalde began saying farewell to the 19 children and two teachers who were massacred in a shooting at their elementary school.
The visitations for Amerie Jo Garza, 10, at Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, and for Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10, at Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary Inc., were the first services to be held Monday, which was Memorial Day.
Family members and friends mourned and prayed the rosary, keeping out the omnipresent cameras and reporters drawn to the rural Texas community that has been thrust into the nation’s conscience.
“We are crying with them. We are shedding tears with them. We are praying with them,” said Dorina Davila, of San Antonio, who said she worked at a Head Start preschool program and is a mother and grandmother.
Maite was remembered in her obituary as a “sweet girl” who wanted to become a marine biologist “because of her caring heart towards wildlife and the animals within it.”
“Those who know and loved her were blessed with her kind, ambitious, friendly and sweet soul,” her obituary reads.
Maite’s funeral was set for Tuesday after the visitation Monday.
Funerals for the other victims of last Tuesday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School are scheduled throughout this week and into the middle of next month.
As people arrived to remember Amerie under cloudy gray skies Monday, the twitter of a house finch and the squeaks of western kingbirds could be heard. A breeze bent the palms trees and flapped the American and Texas flags flying half staff at the funeral home.
Amerie was shot while dialing 911 in an effort to help her classmates, her grandmother Berlinda Irene Arreola told The Daily Beast.
Earlier in the day, the fourth grader had received a certificate for making the honor roll.
Inside the funeral home, much like throughout Uvalde, the mood was somber, said Esther Rubio, 73, of San Antonio, who was born and raised in Uvalde.
“This is our hometown. We had to pay our respect,” Rubio said.
Amerie was dressed in a lavender dress with a frilly bodice in the photo on her obituary. In a video tribute posted online, a woman sings “Amazing Grace” to the strums of a guitar as photos of Amerie from birth through her short childhood roll by. In one, she wears a black cowboy hat with a painted-on goatee and mustache, a bumblebee costume in another. Family and friends are often with her.
“She was a very beautiful, loving girl,” said Leticia Gammon, 58, who worked with her grandmother at a convenience store. “She always had us laughing.”
People walked up the street to lay flowers and other mementos at the elementary school, which is near the funeral home.
Damian Esqueda, a second grade teacher in Pearsall, about 50 miles southeast of Uvalde, cried as he made his way toward the memorial at the school. But he said there was a sense of tranquility at the Robb campus Monday.
“You can feel their presence here, still,” he said. “I was expecting a bad, eerie feeling. There’s a peach here, regardless of what these students went through.”
Reno Castro, 45, of Laredo, said Monday marked his “final goodbye” to his cousin Amerie.
“I’m just trying to make sense of all this. The grieving really starts today,” he said by telephone.
Castro described Amerie as an outgoing girl who enjoyed art and music and was a favorite among teachers, even if she sometimes threw sass their way.
“When a teacher first pronounced her name, mispronounced it, she corrected her immediately,” he recalled with a hearty laugh.
“Where would life have taken her? It’s now a big question mark,” Castro said.
Outrage at the lost potential of lives cut short accompanied the sadness for some. Both Davila and Rubio talked about the need for gun control, for children to be safe.
“How many lives is it going to take?” Davila asked. “These are innocent children that are going through this every day and they are not safe anymore. They are not safe in that school. They are not safe in that setting,” she said.
When asked what should be done to prevent another mass shooting from impacting children, Rubio didn’t mince words.
“Everybody has to get rid of their guns as far as I’m concerned,” she said. Rubio added, 18-year-olds should not be able to purchase high-powered weapons like the one used by the gunman Tuesday that claimed 21 lives.
“If they’re not able to buy beer, why should they be able to buy a gun or a rifle?”