Families begin to bury children murdered in mass shooting at Texas school
The first two of 19 children murdered inside their Texas classrooms have been remembered at funeral visitations. The gathering for 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza was held at the Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home in Uvalde, directly across from Robb Elementary School where the children – plus two teachers – were shot to death last Tuesday by a lone teenage gunman. Maite Rodriguez, also 10, was remembered at the town’s other funeral home.
Over the next two and a half weeks, people in the south-west Texas town will say goodbye to all the children and their teachers – one visitation, funeral service, and burial after another. As family and friends grieve, investigators will push for answers about how police responded to the mass shooting – with politicians vowing to consider what can be done to stem the gun violence permeating the nation. This week alone, funerals are planned for 11 children and teacher Irma Garcia.
People visit a memorial outside Robb Elementary School (Wong Maye-E/AP)
On Monday, some mourners at Amerie’s visitation wore lilac or lavender shades of purple — her favourites — at the request of her father, Angel Garza.
Many carried in flowers, including purple ones. The little girl who loved to draw had just received a mobile phone for her 10th birthday. One of her friends told Mr Garza that Amerie tried to use the phone to call police during the attack on her year five classroom.
Among the mourners at Amerie’s visitation were some of Maite’s relatives. Like many people, they were attending both. Maite’s family wore green tie-dye shirts with an illustration showing Maite with angel wings.
Before going into the funeral home, they stopped at a ditch to see the metal gate gunman Salvador Ramos crashed a pick-up truck into before crossing a field and entering the school. “How did he walk for so long?” asked Juana Magana, Maite’s aunt.
A woman kneels at a memorial at Robb Elementary School (Jae C.
Hillcrest Memorial and the shooting will be forever linked. After Ramos wrote off the truck, two men at the funeral home heard the crash and ran towards the accident. Ramos shot at them.
He missed and both men made it to safety. Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia’s funeral will be June 6 — the day after she was supposed to turn 10. Her family had been preparing a big birthday bash at her grandmother’s house for this weekend.
She had been hoping to receive gifts related to the Disney film Encanto. “She loved that movie and talked a lot about it,” said her aunt, Siria Arizmendi. Ellie was quiet even around family but loved making videos and had been already practicing with her older sister a choreography for her quinceanera party — the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday — even though it was still five years away, Ms Arizmendi said.
Ellie’s older sister is doing OK, Ms Arizmendi said, understanding their family and others face a long road to recovery. “It is just sad for all the children,” she said.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit a memorial at Robb Elementary School (Evan Vucci/AP)
Funeral directors, embalmers and others from across Texas have arrived to help. Jimmy Lucas, president of the Texas Funeral Directors Association, brought a hearse and volunteered to work as a driver, pitch in for services, or do whatever he could, he told NBC News.
Governor Greg Abbott, speaking at a Memorial Day event in Longview, urged Texans to keep Uvalde in their prayers. “What happened in Uvalde was a horrific act of evil,” Mr Abbott said. “And as Texans, we must come together and lift up Uvalde and support them in every way that we possibly can.
It is going to take time to heal the devastation that the families there have gone through and are going through, But be assured, we will not relent until Uvalde recovers.” The US Department of Justice announced on Sunday a review of the law enforcement response. Police have come under heavy criticism for taking well over an hour to kill Ramos inside the adjoining classrooms where he unleashed carnage.
Officials revealed on Friday that pupils and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a corridor.
Salvatore Di Grazia, a teacher visiting from Rio Grande Valley, Texas, prays at a memorial at Robb Elementary School (Jae C. Hong/AP)
Officials said the commander believed the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.
The revelation raised new questions about whether lives were lost because officers did not act faster to stop the gunman, who was ultimately killed by border patrol tactical officers. Authorities have said Ramos legally bought two guns not long before the school attack: an AR-style rifle on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20. He had just turned 18, permitting him to buy the weapons under federal law.
A day after visiting Uvalde and pledging “We will” in response to people chanting “Do something”, President Joe Biden on Monday expressed some optimism that there may be some bipartisan support to tighten restrictions on the kind of high-powered weapons used by the gunman. “I think things have gotten so bad that everybody’s getting more rational, at least that’s my hope,” Mr Biden told reporters before honouring the nation’s fallen in Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery. “The Second Amendment was never absolute,” Mr Biden said. “You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed.
You couldn’t go out and buy a lot of weapons.” A bipartisan group of senators talked over the weekend to see if they could reach even a modest compromise on gun safety legislation. Encouraging state “red flag” laws to keep guns away from those with mental health issues and addressing school security and mental health resources were on the table, said Chris Murphy, who is leading the effort.
The group will meet again this week under a 10-day deadline to strike a deal.