UVALDE, Texas (AP) — One student was an avid runner, so fast she swept the races at field day. Another was learning football plays from his grandfather. One girl sensed something was wrong and wanted to skip school.
On Wednesday, stories began to emerge about the lives of the 19 fourth-graders — “precious individuals” according to the school district superintendent — and their two teachers who were gunned down behind a barricaded door at Robb Elementary School in the southwestern Texas town of Uvalde.
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, he said.
“She was just a whole lot of fun,” he said.
Manny Renfro lost his 8-year-old grandson, Uziyah Garcia, in the shooting.
“The sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known,” Renfro said. “I’m not just saying that because he was my grandkid.”
Renfro said Uziyah last visited him 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 that he would remember and he would do it exactly like we practiced.”
Veronica Luevanos, whose 10-year-old daughter, Jailah Nicole Silguero, was among the victims, tearfully told Univision that her daughter 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.
All of the dead were in the same fourth-grade classroom, where the shooter barricaded himself Tuesday and opened fire on the children and their teachers, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told a news conference Wednesday. He said the gunman used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in the attack and posted on Facebook shortly before the shooting, “I'm going to shoot an elementary school.”
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 had 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.”
Among those left to grieve were relatives of 10-year-old Eliahna Garcia.
“She was very happy and very 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 was big into family, enjoyed being with the family.”
Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas, mourned the death of her 10-year-old cousin, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming.
“He was just a loving ... little boy, just enjoying life, not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen,” she said. “He was very bubbly, loved to dance with his brothers, his mom. This has just taken a toll on all of us.”
She lamented what she described as lax gun laws.
“We should have more restrictions, especially if these kids are not in their right state of mind and all they want to do is just hurt people, especially innocent children going to the schools,” Garza said.
Arizmendi also 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.”
In the hours after the shooting, pictures of smiling children were posted on social media, their families begging for information. Classes had been winding down for the year and each school day had a theme. Tuesday’s was Footloose and Fancy, and students were supposed to wear a nice outfit with fun or fancy shoes.
At a civic center where desperate relatives had gathered for news late Tuesday, one man walked away sobbing into his phone: “She is gone.” Behind the building, a woman stood alone, alternately crying and yelling into her phone, shaking her fist and stamping her feet.
Even for the survivors, there was grief.
Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting. She 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.”
Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, which is located across the street from Robb Elementary School, said in a Facebook post that it would be assisting families of the shooting victims with no cost for funerals.
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, and Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed.