A week after an attacker entered a Texas elementary school and opened fire, the first of 21 funerals began Tuesday. Meanwhile, at least one family is still unable to see the body of their daughter.
Hundreds of mourners turned out for an evening mass in memory of Amerie Jo Garza. Six people wearing white shirts and gloves carried the small coffin into the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which prevented many mourners from entering because they had no more space. Maite Rodriguez’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday night at one of the funeral homes in Uvalde, Texas. Both 10-year-old girls and fourth graders were two of 19 students and two teachers killed by 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, who entered a classroom on May 24 and began firing a military-style rifle.
On Tuesday, wakes will also be held for one of the teachers: Irma Garcia, 48, as well as for the children Nevaeh Bravo and Jose Flores Jr. Amerie loved the color purple, so Erika Santiago, her husband, and their two children went to her funeral wearing purple shirts adorned with pictures of the victims. Santiago referred to Amerie as a “very good girl who smiled a lot” and who was “very simple and charismatic, but full of life”. Santiago said her 10-year-old son, Adriel, looked in horror at the first images on the news after the shooting and recognized her friends Amerie and Maite.
“It affected him a lot,” Santiago said. “She told me that he didn’t want to go to school for fear of that happening. He said to me: ‘Mom, I don’t feel safe’”.
Funerals will continue for the next two and a half weeks. Vincent Salazar’s 11-year-old daughter, Layla, will be the last. Her wake is scheduled for June 15 and the funeral will be held the following day. Salazar said his family may not see Layla’s body until shortly before the wake.
“It’s strange, because generally when someone dies, these things are done in three or four days,” Salazar said. “It’s not something that takes that long. I understand that there were also other children, but we are still waiting for them to deliver it to us. It’s the only thing we’re focused on.” Uvalde County Justice of the Peace Eulalio “Lalo” Diaz Jr. said that the bodies of the 21 victims were sent to the forensic service in San Antonio for autopsy, standard practice in a high-impact crime.
“What we need is to have all the facts,” Diaz said. “Even though we have a dead shooter and we probably won’t have a trial, we still need all the facts.”
Diaz noted that the autopsies have already been completed. He declined to discuss preliminary results, saying final reports will take three to four months. In the meantime, he added, simply We do not have enough space in the two funeral homes in Uvalde to store all the bodies, so many were sent to funeral homes in other nearby cities until the date of their burials approaches. He commented that funeral homes are collaborating with families on the date they can see the bodies.
Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. A woman who answered the phone at Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary declined an interview request.
“Mainly it’s because of the number of victims,” Diaz said, wondering, “Where do you store so many bodies?”
Vincent Salazar said he and his family will go to as many wakes as they can to offer their condolences to the families of the other victims.
“We will not necessarily go to funerals, because we still have to attend to many things, at all hours, every day,” Salazar said. “We still have a lot to do. We have to organize everything: obituaries, death certificates, funeral arrangements.”
“It’s the only thing we think about right now, getting her back and being able to put her to rest,” Salazar said of Layla. “That is all”.
Investigators are still looking for answers to how the police responded to the shooting, and the federal Department of Justice will review the actions of the police forces.
Blame for the agonizing delay in confronting and bringing down the assailant – even as parents gathered outside begged the police to come inside and as desperate children called 911 from inside the school – has fallen on the police chief. of the school district, Pete Arredondo, after the director of the state police said Arredondo made the “wrong decision” not to break into the classroom because he believed the attacker was barricaded inside and no children were at risk. Steven McGraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Friday that after following the shooter into the school, the agents waited for more than an hour to break into the classroom. The revelation raised new questions about whether lives were lost because officers did not act quickly enough to stop the attacker, who was eventually shot down by a Border Patrol tactical team.
Jacob Albarado, an off-duty Border Patrol agent who came to the school armed with a shotgun he borrowed from his barber, said Tuesday the scene was chaotic when he arrived to pick up his daughter and his wife. Both were unharmed in the attack, he stressed.
“Personally, I think everyone here was doing their best considering the circumstances,” he told NBC’s “Today Show.” “I think everyone who was there did everything in their power.”
Authorities have said that Ramos legally acquired two weapons shortly before the attack: an AR-type rifle on May 17 and a second rifle three days later. He had just turned 18, so he was able to buy the guns without violating federal law.