UVALDE — The day after a gunman walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and fatally shot 19 children and two adults and injured 17 others, residents of the small town were struggling to understand how such a tragedy could happen here.
On Wednesday, the names of the victims trickled out as the families of those killed waited to claim the bodies of their loved ones. Officials said all of the victims had been identified and their families notified.
According to officials, the children who were killed in the state’s deadliest school shooting are: fourth-grade students Nevaeh Bravo, Jacklyn Cazares, Makenna Elrod, Jose Flores, Uziyah Garcia, Amerie Garza, Ellie Garcia, Annabell Guadalupe, Xavier Lopez, Jayce Luevanos, Tess Marie Mata, Miranda Mathis, Alithia Ramirez, Maite Rodriguez, Alexandria Rubio, Layla Salazar, Jailah Silguero, Eliahana Torres and Rogelio Torres. Fourth grade teachers Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles were also killed.
Three children and an adult remained at a San Antonio hospital, as of Wednesday. Two of them — a 66-year-old woman and 10-year-old girl — were listed in serious condition, according to a tweet from University Health.
At 12:30 p.m., state and local officials gathered for a news conference at the Uvalde High School Auditorium to update the public on the events that led up to the shooting and assistance that is available to the community of about 16,000.
“Uvalde has been shaken to its core,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Later that evening, people filled the Uvalde County Fairplex for a prayer vigil, where local clergy led a sometimes sobbing and tearful crowd in prayer and hymns. Many wore maroon T-shirts to show their Coyote pride.
Throughout the day, students and families recalled the horror of the previous day, still perplexed that someone they knew or saw around town could kill 21 people.
Nine-year-old Aubriella Melchor hid in a bathroom stall in Robb Elementary on Tuesday as the gunman walked past and began shooting, she recalled Wednesday.
Aubriella was about to walk out when she heard gunshots and ducked down, she said. Later, two police officers approached the stall, but Aubriella only came out from hiding when she saw their badges.
Her mother, Celeste Ibarra, said her daughter is OK but shaken up. She doesn’t want to be alone.
“She keeps thinking that he’ll come back for her,” Ibarra said.
Ibarra heard about the shooting on a police scanner while she was driving to her mom’s work, which is near the school. She said she drove straight to Robb Elementary and parked between two police cruisers. She saw the shooter emerge from the school and then run back in once he saw the police officers.
“Then we didn’t see him for a good while,” she said. “We just heard shots again in the back.”
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said “40 minutes or so” lapsed from when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos fired at a school security officer and when a Border Patrol agent killed him. Onlookers urged law enforcement agents to charge into the school, while Ramos barricaded himself in a fourth grade classroom and killed 19 children and two teachers, the Associated Press reported.
Ibarra said she wished the dozens of officers outside the school had done something sooner “instead of just standing around.”
“I think we could have saved more kids,” she said.
Javier Cazares, whose daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the shooting, also made it to the school while police were still waiting outside the building. He said many parents had faster response times than the police and reluctantly stood by as they heard gunshots inside the school.
“We didn’t care about us,” he said. “We wanted to get our babies out.”
While Ibarra believes there should be stricter gun laws, she also said the school should have tighter security, such as surveillance cameras, fences and bulletproof windows.
“I don’t think guns are just the problem,” she said. “I think it’s just the evilness behind the one holding the gun.”
Lifelong Uvalde resident Lupita Zapata also called for schools to have better security in the wake of the shooting. She said she knew one of the children who died, Eliahana Torres, who was her daughter-in-law’s sister. She recalled that Eliahana was “outgoing, full of laughter and caring” and that she also loved doing TikTok videos.
“It’s something that no one ever expected to happen in this small town,” Zapata said. “She will definitely be missed.”
After the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018 — when a 17-year-old junior killed 10 classmates and injured 13 more — the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 11. The law provided an annual allotment per student to fund school safety, such as training and new equipment. Under the law, school districts must adopt an emergency operations plan that addresses multiple threats and submit this in a safety and security audit to the Texas School Safety Center for review.
The education commissioner was responsible for setting building standards to “provide a secure and safe environment,” and another piece of legislation distributed $100 million in grants for schools to harden campuses.
All district employees must receive emergency training, including substitute teachers.
School districts and public charters also had to create threat assessment teams for each campus, which would identify students who make threats of violence and provide possible interventions for those students.
At the press conference, Abbott said he had no information about the status of Robb Elementary’s emergency operations plan or threat assessments conducted by the school district. The law allocated more than $600 million to address school safety concerns.
“We’re all going to go back and look at both exactly what was passed, any shortcomings in what was passed and any shortcomings in implementation,” he said. “We will always — and especially in this coming session — evaluate what more needs to be done in our schools to make them even safer.”
State Education Commissioner Mike Morath said the Texas Education Agency would continue to do more to bolster preventive practices in schools all over the state.
“After any incident like this, of course you reflect on lessons learned to ensure that we can prevent this kind of situation in schools going forward,” he said.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District will make mental health services available at the Staff Sgt. Willie de Leon Civic Center on Thursday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Northside ISD in San Antonio sent five counselors to help out; they will stay through Friday, at least, district spokesman Barry Perez said.
Uvalde CISD Superintendent Hal Harrell said Wednesday that he could never imagine a day like this. He said the two teachers who were killed were cornerstones of the campus.
“They poured their heart and soul into what they did in educating our kids,” he said.
Of the 19 students who were killed Tuesday, Harrell said the children were there to enjoy an awards ceremony and other end-of-year festivities.
“You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” he said.
Staff photographer Nick Wagner contributed to this story.