UVALDE, Texas—A week after a gunman ran into a Texas grade school and started shooting, the first of 21 funerals began on Tuesday.
Hundreds of mourners turned out for an afternoon Mass to remember Amerie Jo Garza. Six pallbearers wearing white shirts and gloves carried her small casket into Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which turned away several mourners after reaching capacity. Maite Rodriguez’s funeral was scheduled for later Tuesday at one of the funeral homes in Uvalde, Texas.
The two 10-year-old fourth graders were among 19 children and two teachers killed when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos burst into a classroom on May 24 and began firing. Visitation for one of the teachers, 48-year-old Irma Garcia, also was Tuesday, along with visitations for children Nevaeh Bravo and Jose Flores Jr.
Funerals will continue over the next two-and-a-half weeks. Vincent Salazar’s 11-year-old daughter, Layla, has the last of the scheduled services—her visitation is June 15 with the funeral the following day.
On Monday, some mourners at Amerie’s visitation wore lilac or lavender shades of purple—Amerie’s favorites—at the request of her step-father, Angel Garza. Many carried in flowers, including purple ones.
The little girl who loved to draw had just received a cellphone for her 10th birthday. One of her friends told Angel Garza that Amerie tried to use the phone to call police during the assault on her fourth-grade 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 the ditch to see the metal gate gunman Salvador Ramos crashed a pickup truck into before crossing a field and entering the school.
“How did he walk for so long?” asked Juana Magaña, Maite’s aunt.
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 this coming weekend. She had been hoping to receive gifts related to the Disney movie “Encanto.”
“She loved that movie and talked a lot about it,” said her aunt, Siria Arizmendi.
Ellie was quiet even around family but loved doing videos and had been already practicing with her older sister a choreography for her quinceañera party—the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday—even though it was still five years away, Arizmendi said.
Ellie’s older sister is doing OK, Arizmendi said, understanding their family and others face a long road to recovery.
“It is just sad for all the children,” she said.
Funeral directors, embalmers, and others from across Texas 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.
Gov. 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,” 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.”
Uvalde County Justice of the Peace Eulalio “Lalo” Diaz Jr. said the bodies of all 21 victims were sent to the medical examiner’s office in San Antonio for autopsies, which he said is standard for a major crime.
“Our thing is to have all the facts,” Diaz said. “Even though there is a deceased shooter and we probably won’t have a trial, we still need to have the facts.”
Diaz said the autopsies are complete. He declined to discuss preliminary results and said final reports will take three to four months.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Sunday a review of the law enforcement response. Police have come under criticism for taking well over an hour to kill Ramos inside the adjoining classrooms where he unleashed carnage.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin pushed back on officials’ claims, including remarks made over the weekend by Texas’ lieutenant governor, that they weren’t told the truth about the massacre.
“Local law enforcement has not made any public comments about the specifics of the investigation or (misled) anyone,” he said in a Monday statement. “Statements by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick that he was ‘not told the truth’ are not true.”
Officials revealed Friday that students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway. 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.
Jacob Albarado, an off-duty Border Patrol agent who rushed to the school with a shotgun borrowed from his barber, said Tuesday it was chaotic when he arrived in search of his daughter and wife. Both were physically unharmed in the attack, he said.
“To me, I believe everyone there was doing the best that they could given the circumstances,” he told NBC’s “Today Show.” “I believe everyone there was doing everything in their power.”