A Plea to Celebrate Life as Uvalde Faces Many Days of Mourning

UVALDE, Texas — Amerie Jo Garza, 10, a jokester who made the honor roll. Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10, who excelled in school and learned how to sew from YouTube videos. Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Irma Garcia, 48, and Joe Garcia, 50, the parents of Lyliana, Alysandra, Cristian and Jose. Wednesday, 10 a.m.

Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10, called Josecito and Baby Jose, who collected toy trucks and played Little League. Wednesday, 2 p.m.

A week after a gunman stormed into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, funerals began on Tuesday for the 19 young students and two teachers killed — as well as the husband of a victim whose fatal heart attack was attributed by his relatives to his overwhelming grief. Stretching into mid-June, the coming days will be packed with services, visitations, rosaries and burials, memorializing each of the victims whose deaths are the sum of a community’s agonizing loss.

The Rev. Eduardo Morales will preside over several funerals, each one requiring him to sit down with relatives and craft sermons that celebrate the young lives cut short. On some days, parents will bury children and also mourn their classmates and friends.

“We are not here to celebrate her death,” Father Morales, the pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, told the mourners who filled the simple church on Tuesday for Amerie Jo Garza’s funeral Mass, expressing a sentiment that he said he would repeat at every funeral in the coming days, including one on Wednesday, another on Friday and one next Monday, if not more. “We are here to celebrate her life.”

“Do not allow her death and this tragedy,” he went on, “to define who she is.”

Uvalde has already been grieving for days, with neighbors hugging and lighting candles at public vigils and memorials — gripped by anguish after so much loss and the sense that the attack had altered the trajectory of an entire community.

Now, the mourning has evolved into something more individualized.

It has come with constant reminders of the squandered potential: the small coffins, one with a dinosaur on it, another with a Superman logo, a third with pink handles and a picture of a child doing a TikTok dance.

Many of the remembrances have acknowledged young lives with lofty ambitions: Maite Rodriguez wanted to go to Texas A&M University’s campus in Corpus Christi and study to become a marine biologist. Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, known as Lexi, told her parents she wanted to be a lawyer.

The aftermath of mass violence has a kind of bleak rhythm, one that plays out across the country after deadly attacks. In Texas alone, there have been mass shootings in recent years at a church in Sutherland Springs, a small town on the other side of San Antonio; a Walmart in El Paso; and a high school in Santa Fe, near Houston.

Already, there has been a shift in Uvalde, a city of 15,000 people in the scrubby, windblown stretch west of San Antonio.

Soon after the shooting, while Uvalde was still in the clutches of shock, the city was packed with law enforcement agencies, elected officials and the news media, with journalists representing news organizations from around the world.

The attention brought its own hassles and hardships. But it also brought a surge of support. One online fund-raiser for the children of Irma Garcia, a teacher who was killed in the shooting, and her husband collected more than $2.7 million — far eclipsing the original goal of $10,000.

For some, the notice has also been reassuring in less tangible ways.

“This is a little town — it’s a city, but it’s little,” Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio said of Uvalde, which is part of his diocese. He said it was a source of comfort for residents to know that people far from Uvalde knew of their community’s plight and had sympathy for them. “The eyes of the world were on their home,” he added.

The community is still grappling with the immediate aftermath: Gov. Greg Abbott, who was among the officials to visit, said on Tuesday that he had issued a disaster declaration for Uvalde, which mobilizes more state and local resources for the city.

And as state law enforcement officials continued their investigation into why police officers had delayed entering a classroom where the gunman was locked in with students, they said on Tuesday that the chief of the school district’s Police Department, Pete Arredondo, had not made himself available for a follow-up interview by investigators.

Still, a week after the shooting, the outside attention has started to diminish. The memorials have become less crowded. On the streets, there are fewer reporters, cameras and vehicles emblazoned with the logos of news outlets.

Some are already contemplating the arduous road ahead, unsure of what kind of support Uvalde will ultimately need and for how long, particularly the children who are now growing up in the shadow of devastation.

Students are just now beginning their summer break from school, but parents are already contemplating how to help their children navigate their grief over the summer months and feel safe and ready to return to school, come fall.

But at the moment, much of Uvalde is wrestling with a void that has emerged: the nearly two dozen people who have died.

Sacred Heart, the parish that has been an anchor for Uvalde’s Catholic community for generations, has been a gathering place in the days since the attack, holding special Masses and vigils, as well as counseling services.

On Tuesday, the church was filled again as a choir sang a hymn based on the Prayer of St. Francis — “make me a channel of your peace.” Many attending Amerie’s funeral dressed in shades of lilac and lavender. Others wore work uniforms, stepping away from their jobs to take time to pray and cry.

Her death had compounded a string of loss for a family that had relatives die from the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, Father Morales — a native of Uvalde who returned six years ago to lead Sacred Heart — encouraged those who mourned her to make a choice, however tough it might be: Celebrate her life. Take to heart that her spirit and her legacy endure. “Allow her to be with us,” he said.

Amerie was a social girl, her family said. She was a good student, but she loved lunchtime and recess, when she could spend time with her friends. She also enjoyed expressing herself through art. In her obituary, her family wrote, “A protector of her brother and as we now know her classmates.”

“You raised a beautiful, loving, caring little girl,” Father Morales said.

As the Mass ended, he prayed over her coffin.

“In peace let us take our sister to her place of rest,” he said. “May the angels lead you into paradise.”

The choir, accompanied by a piano and violin, began to sing, its hymn ushering Amerie to that place of rest, her relatives on to navigate their grief and the priest to many more days of imploring weary mourners to celebrate those who had been taken from them.

“If you are passing through the raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown,” the choir sang as the crowd filed from the church. Many of the mourners had tears in their eyes.

“If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed,” the singers continued. “And if you stand before the power of hell, and death is at your side, know that I am with you through it all.”

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