The small Texas town of Uvalde is beginning to bury its children, killed last week in the deadliest school shooting in the United States in a decade.
Funerals are scheduled on Tuesday for two 10-year-old girls who were among the 19 students, all aged nine to 11, and two teachers killed when a gunman burst into Robb Elementary School on May 24 and opened fire in a fourth-grade classroom.
According to obituaries on the websites of Uvalde’s two funeral homes, Amerie Jo Garza was sweet, sassy and funny, and loved swimming and drawing; Maite Yuleana Rodriguez was an honour student who loved learning about whales and dolphins and dreamt of becoming a marine biologist.
Amerie’s funeral was set for Tuesday afternoon at Uvalde’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Maite’s will be in the evening at a Uvalde funeral home.
“Our focus on Tuesday is on our families who lost loved ones,” Mayor Don McLaughlin said in a statement announcing the cancellation of a scheduled city council meeting. “We begin burying our children [on Tuesday], the innocent victims of last week’s murders at Robb Elementary School.”
The small community of about 16,000 people is still reeling in the aftermath of the deadly attack, which has spurred calls across the US for stricter gun control laws, but residents have banded together to support one another.
This week alone, funerals are planned for 11 children and teacher Irma Garcia.
On Monday, some mourners at Amerie’s visitation wore lilac or lavender shades of purple — the young girl’s favourites — at the request of her father, Angel Garza. Many carried in flowers, including purple ones.
This week, artists raced to complete a mural depicting white doves on the side of the Ace Bail Bonds building, near the cemetery.
“Those kids were full of life and dreams,” said one of the artists, Yanira Castillo, 34, who has lived her entire life in Uvalde. “A town does not get over that. It will affect us forever.”
As family and friends unleash their grief, investigators will push for answers about how police responded to the shooting, and lawmakers have said they will consider what can be done to stem the gun violence permeating the nation.
The US Justice Department is investigating law enforcement’s response to the shooting, after Texas officials revealed that students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a school hallway.
“With the benefit of hindsight … from where I’m sitting right now, of course, it was not the right decision,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw told reporters on Friday. “It was the wrong decision [to wait]. There’s no excuse for that.”
Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police department, who has come under criticism for his response to the shooting. He was scheduled to be sworn in as a recently elected member of the city council on Tuesday, but that meeting was postponed.
US President Joe Biden, who last year called mass shootings in the US a “national embarrassment”, visited Uvalde on Sunday with First Lady Jill Biden, and pledged to act on gun control.
On Monday, Biden expressed some optimism that there may be some bipartisan support to tighten restrictions on the kind of high-powered weapons used by the attacker.
“I think things have gotten so bad that everybody’s getting more rational, at least that’s my hope,” Biden told reporters before honouring the nation’s fallen in Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The Second Amendment was never absolute,” Biden said, referring to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which gun rights activists often invoke to reject gun control measures. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to “keep and bear arms”.
“You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed. You couldn’t go out and buy a lot of weapons,” Biden said.