UVALDE, Texas — Hundreds of mourners packed the bleachers lining the Uvalde Fairplex rodeo arena for a somber prayer vigil Wednesday night, a day after 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered at Robb Elementary School.
Gov. Greg Abbott, his challenger Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Ted Cruz joined the grieving residents of Uvalde, a close-knit town of 16,000 in between San Antonio and the Mexican border, for the heartbreaking event, which was punctuated by sobs and wails.
Many of the devastated mourners, who mostly wore Uvalde High School merchandise emblazoned with a coyote mascot, became hysterical when a solo violinist closed the vigil with a rendition of “Amazing Grace”.
“We pray for the little children who saw what happened to their friends,” Baptist Temple Church pastor Tony Gruben said.
“And we pray that God will heal their little hearts and their little souls. God is within Uvalde, she will not fall.”
Grieving mom Jessica Hernandes clutched a portfolio of her dead 10-year-old daughter Alithia Ramirez’s drawings.
Alithia dreamed of being a fine artist whose work would one day be exhibited in a gallery.
“I think about how talented and special she was,” Hernandes said. “I think about the love she had in her heart.”
“I don’t want this to happen again. I don’t want this to happen to other families. No one deserves this. We need more security in the schools.”
Fourth-grader Katarina Roque went home early on Tuesday, missing the shooting by half-an-hour.
The anguished little girl lost 12 friends from her class.
“It happened in my class and the class next to me,” Katarina said. “I lost friends. I lost 12 friends.
“My best friends were Eliahana [‘Eliajha’ Cruz Torres], Nevaeh [Bravo] and Jacklyn [Cazares]. They were like sisters to me,” she explained.
“I was tired and I wanted to rest so I went home with mom.”
Marsela Roque, 34, pulled Katarina out of school 30 minutes before the shooter burst into her daughter’s classroom.
“We were there for awards, which were over close to 11 a.m. I took her home about 30 minutes before the shooting,” Roque said.
“She asked ‘can I go with you?’ and I was like ‘no, it’s too early’ but eventually I said ‘OK, yeh you can’. I thank God.”
Roque said the indiscriminate slaughter at the school by an 18-year-old who was eventually killed by police left terrified for her daughter’s safety.
“I am worried about the safety of my children at school. More should have been done. Teachers should have the right to carry,” the heartbroken mom said.
Katarina’s teacher was expected to recover, the traumatized child explained.
“My Reyes (Arnuflo Reyes) is my teacher. He’s funny and made a lot of jokes,” she said.
“He got shot three times and had to have surgery.”
Uralde High School senior Miller Carnes, 17, was at Robb Elementary the day before the shooting as part of a tradition where graduating seniors are farewelled by younger Robb Elementary students.
“I probably high-fived some of the kids who were killed,” Miller said.
Miller was in the same grade as shooter Salvador Ramos, 18. The two had played flag football together, but hadn’t seen each other since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He was quiet. He never really said anything. He had friends. I wouldn’t really consider a complete outcast.
“He wasn’t super outgoing but he was friendly enough — just different. I never thought he would do anything like what he did.”
Miller’s grandfather Blaine Bennett, 71, a lifelong Uvaldean and former Robb Elementary board member was also at the vigil.
“We’re a tight-knit community that rallies when people are hurting,” Bennett said.
“We’re heartbroken and still in shock. It’s surreal.
“In the long-run the closeness of our community will make it easier to heal because we’re one big family and like any family hardship brings us closer together.”