Irma Garcia, a teacher of more than two decades, was known as a steadfast optimist in her family. She would crack jokes at gatherings in Uvalde, Texas, sing her favorite classic rock tunes during parties and help her nephew, John Martinez, with homework.
“She’s always been optimistic about everything, and just so loving with the people in her life,” said Mr. Martinez, 21, a student at Texas State University.
On Tuesday, he and his family had gathered to process the news from the authorities: Ms. Garcia had been among the 21 people killed — 19 students and two teachers — at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
When the authorities went inside the classroom moments after the shooting, Mr. Martinez said, they had “found her body there, embracing children in her arms pretty much until her last breath.”
She had treated her students as if they were her own children, he said, so it had been easy for loved ones to possibly “picture her putting her life on the line.”
Ms. Garcia — or Tia Garcia, as Mr. Martinez referred to his aunt in Spanish — was “like a second mom” to her nephews and students, he said.
“She brings a joy and a light to the room.”
‘They just want their sister back’
Jailah Silguero, 10, was the youngest of four children, the “baby” of her family, her father said. She loved going to school and seeing her friends. Jailah had told her father, Jacob Silguero, 35, on Monday night that she wanted to stay home on Tuesday. It was uncharacteristic of her, and by morning, Mr. Silguero said, she seemed to have forgotten about it. She got dressed and went to school as usual.
“I can’t believe this happened to my daughter, my baby,” he said.
He added, “It’s always been a fear of mine to lose a kid.”
Mr. Silguero and the family were getting ready to go to a funeral home on Wednesday after having spent hours at the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center the day before waiting for information about Jailah. Officials asked the family to give a DNA sample using a swab.
“I figured after the DNA swab test, it was something bad,” he said. “About an hour later, they called to confirm that she had passed.”
Jailah’s siblings are taking it hard, Mr. Silguero said: “They just want their sister back.”
Jailah Silguero was among 21 people — 19 children and two adults — killed in the massacre on Tuesday.
Two cousins in one class
Jackie Cazares and Annabelle Rodriguez were cousins in the same classroom at Robb Elementary School. Jackie, who had her First Communion two weeks ago, was the social one, said Polly Flores, who was Jackie’s aunt and Annabelle’s great-aunt. “She was outgoing; she always had to be the center of attention,” Ms. Flores said. “She was my little diva.”
Annabelle, an honor roll student, was quieter. But she and her cousin were close, so close that Annabelle’s twin sister, who was home-schooled, “was always jealous,” Ms. Flores said. “We are a very tight family,” she said. “It’s just devastating.”
A little girl who loved her friends
Amerie Jo Garza was a friendly 10-year-old who loved Play-Doh.
Amerie Jo was “full of life, a jokester, always smiling,” her father, Alfred Garza III, said in a brief phone interview. She did not talk a lot about school but liked spending time with her friends at lunch, in the playground and during recess. “She was very social,” he said. “She talked to everybody.”
Amerie Jo’s extended family had gathered in the room when the Texas Rangers broke the horrible news late Tuesday.
The family’s loss came after losing several loved ones to Covid-19 over the past two years.
“We were finally getting a break, nobody was passing away,” Mr. Garza said. “Then this happened.”
Mr. Garza, who works at a used car dealership in Uvalde, said he was on a lunch break when Amerie Jo’s mother told him she could not get their daughter out of the school because it was on lockdown.
“I just went straight over there and found the chaos,” he said. He recalled seeing cars backing up on the streets, with parents trying to enter the school to find their children. Police cars were everywhere.
At first, he said, he did not think that anyone had been hurt. Then he heard that children had died. For hours, he awaited word about his daughter.
“I was kind of in shock,” he said, after hearing from the Texas Rangers. When he got home, he started to go through her pictures. “That’s when I kind of had the release,” he said. “I started crying and started mourning.”
‘She brought the neighborhood together’
Eva Mireles, who was in her 40s, loved teaching the children at Robb Elementary School, most recently fourth grade. Neighbors described her as a good-natured person who was usually smiling.
“She brought the neighborhood together,” said Javier Garcia, 18, who lived next door. “She loved those children.”
A cousin by marriage, Joe Costilla, 40, who lives down the block, said that outside of work Ms. Mireles liked to run marathons and was very athletic. “We were always hanging together — barbecues — she was a wonderful person,” he said, holding back tears. They had planned to get together over Memorial Day weekend.
Mr. Costilla’s mother, Esperanza, rushed to his home to console her grandchildren, ages 14 and 10, who knew her well.
“They are taking it really hard,” she said. “She was the kind of teacher everybody loved.”
Audrey Garcia, 48, the mother of a daughter with Down syndrome named Gabby, recalled Ms. Mireles as a transformational teacher in her child’s life.
Gabby is 23 now, with a high school diploma under her belt. Ms. Mireles had been her third-grade teacher. It was only a couple of years earlier, Ms. Garcia said, that schools in the Uvalde area had begun integrating children with mental disabilities into regular classrooms.
“It was new for teachers in that area,” Ms. Garcia said. Ms. Mireles, she said, threw herself into the work. “She used every teaching method she knew to help Gabby reach her highest potential,” she said. “She never saw that potential as lower than anyone else’s in her classroom.”
Jose Flores, 10, had a pink T-shirt that said: “Tough guys wear pink.” His grandfather George Rodriguez called him “my little Josesito” and kept a photograph of the boy in his wallet.
Mr. Rodriguez, who also lost a niece in Tuesday’s shooting, attended counseling at the civic center in Uvalde but said it had offered him little reprieve from the pain. “They were beautiful, innocent children,” he said.
On the honor roll
Xavier Lopez, 10, made the honor roll on the day he was killed. He was eager to come home and share the news with his three brothers, but his grandparents said Xavier decided to stay at school to watch a movie and eat popcorn with his classmates.
They remembered Xavier as an exuberant baseball and soccer player who had a girlfriend at school with whom he chatted away on the phone.
Leonard Sandoval, 54, Xavier’s grandfather, stood outside the family’s home on Wednesday trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. “Why?” he asked. “Why him? Why the kids?”
‘A special, special boy’
Manny Renfro said his 9-year-old grandson, Uziyah Garcia, was a “special, special boy” who loved video games, football and brought joy to their family.
“I stand in grief,” he said in a brief phone interview. “I don’t sleep. I don’t eat.”
When their family was notified by the authorities on Tuesday that Uziyah was among the victims, his mother “cried and cried,” and the family was “hysterical,” Mr. Renfro said.
“I wept,” he said. “He was just a typical kid.”
Reporting was contributed by Richard Fausset, Jack Healy, Eduardo Medina, Christina Morales, Campbell Robertson, Edgar Sandoval, Alex Traub and John Yoon.
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