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‘She Was My Sweet Girl’: Remembering the Victims of the Uvalde Shooting

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‘She Was My Sweet Girl’: Remembering the Victims of the Uvalde Shooting

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June 5, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET

A boy who played Little League. A girl who dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Young children who loved their siblings and classmates. Several who had just made the honor roll. In all, 21 people — 19 students and two teachers — were killed by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.

Jackie Cazares, 9

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Jackie Cazares, who recently had her first communion, was a social butterfly. Her aunt, Polly Flores, described her as “my little diva.”

“She was outgoing,” Ms. Flores said. “She always had to be the center of attention.”

Annabelle Rodriguez, Jackie’s cousin and dear friend, was in the same class and also lost her life in the shooting.

Jose Flores, 10

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Jose Flores, whose family called him Josecito and Baby Jose, loved cars and sports and played baseball for the Uvalde Little League.

He dreamed of becoming a police officer, and though he had struggled in school early on, he had recently buckled down, earning a place on the honor roll.

Jose’s sister, Andrea, also in the fourth grade at Robb Elementary School, escaped through a window on the day of the shooting. “I can’t even imagine a world in which both could have died,” Cynthia Herrera, Jose’s stepmother, said. “Losing Josecito is painful enough. We will never be the same.”

Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia, 9

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Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia was just a few days shy of turning 10.

Her father, Steven Garcia, had been looking forward to being the D.J. at Ellie’s birthday party this summer. On Facebook, he described her as “a doll and was the happiest ever.”

“We miss her,” he said.

Uziyah Garcia, 10

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Uziyah Garcia had moved to Uvalde to live with Nikki and Brett Cross, his aunt and uncle, just in time for the start of the school year. He loved playing basketball, soccer, the virtual-reality game Gorilla Tag and Fortnite. His favorite after-school snack was a Nutella sandwich with blue Takis, which he would try to persuade others to try.

“He was goofy, he loved to make you laugh,” Ms. Cross said. “He loved making everybody laugh.”

Uziyah, or Uzi for short, would have liked to be a professional gamer or YouTuber. But he also expressed an interest in becoming a police officer, because he wanted to help people.

He was thrilled that he had a male teacher at Robb, Arnulfo Reyes, and he talked about him all the time, they said. Days after the shooting, they got his possessions back from the classroom. Tucked among his things was a portrait he had drawn of Mr. Reyes, who was badly injured in the attack.

Amerie Jo Garza, 10

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Amerie Jo Garza was a friendly 10-year-old who loved Play-Doh.

Her father, Alfred Garza III, described her as “full of life, a jokester, always smiling.” She liked spending time with her friends at lunch, on the playground and during recess. “She was very social,” he said. “She talked to everybody.”

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.”

Visitors walking past a memorial for the victims in the Uvalde town square.Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times

Xavier Lopez, 10

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Xavier Lopez 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.

To Leonard Sandoval, 54, Xavier’s grandfather, the boy’s death was incomprehensible. “Why?” he asked. “Why him? Why the kids?”

Tess Marie Mata, 10

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Tess Mata had a cat named Oliver and planned to become a veterinarian. She loved her classmates and her teachers and did well in school.

“She was sassy,” said her sister, Faith Mata, a 21-year-old college student, sometimes using the present tense to describe Tess. “She loves dancing. She loves to get dressed up with her hair done. She’s just a ball of joy. I don’t think she ever came in contact with someone and they didn’t leave with a smile on their face.”

The sisters often watched old Disney movies, but much of their time together was spent on the softball field where Tess became a second-base standout under the tutelage of her older sister.

“That little girl taught herself to pitch by watching YouTube videos and would have been an amazing pitcher,” Ms. Mata said.

Maranda Gail Mathis, 11

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When Maranda Gail Mathis started school, she was shy and quiet, her mother, Deanna Gornto, said. But eventually, she opened up and made friends.

She was a creative girl who loved music, mermaids and unicorns — encouraged by her mother and aunts. She and her younger brother were always together and loved to play Roblox on her tablet. But Maranda also loved the outdoors. She enjoyed running during school field days, swimming in the river and showing rocks she found to her mother.

“The one thing I know is she loved her whole family,” Ms. Gornto said. “She loved all of us.”

Annabelle Rodriguez, 10

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Annabelle Rodriguez was a quiet girl and an honor roll student. She was in the same class as her cousin Jackie Cazares, and the girls were close — so close that Annabelle’s twin sister, who was home-schooled, “was always jealous,” said Polly Flores, Jackie’s aunt and Annabelle’s great-aunt.

Both girls were killed in the school shooting. “We are a very tight family,” Ms. Flores said. “It’s just devastating.”

Ruby Castillo, Marques Hernandez, Jose Castillo and Brianna Garza at a vigil the day after the shooting.Credit…Callaghan O’Hare for The New York Times

Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10

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Maite Yuleana Rodriguez was a small girl with big ambitions and a mind-set to get things done.

Her mother, Ana Rodriguez, described Maite as focused and determined. Before the pandemic, she was a straight-A student. Her grades had slipped a bit over the difficult past two years, but she was working hard to turn that around. On the morning of the shooting, she received an award for making the school’s A-B Honor Roll and won recognition for her computer skills.

Since kindergarten, Maite had dreamed of becoming a marine biologist — and she hoped to study at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. More recently, she had taught herself to sew. When a friend gave her a toy sewing machine, she researched how to use it — and fix it — on YouTube. She began to make pillows for her mother, stepfather and little brother with motifs of bees, honeycombs and cowboys.

“She was charismatic, loving, ambitious, competitive, she was self-driven, focused, she was a fighter and my best friend,” her mother said. “She was my sweet girl.”

Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, 10

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Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, known as Lexi, was an honor student who loved TikTok, dreamed of being a lawyer and was “the student every teacher wants,” said her mother, Kimberly Rubio.

“We talked about women’s rights, and she was a budding feminist,” said Ms. Rubio, 33, her voice breaking at times.

Lexi’s parents said they had waited until the last moment to name her, deciding on something that would stand out when called at a high school graduation.

“She was my baby,” Ms. Rubio said. “I don’t want anybody else to go through this.”

Layla Salazar, 10

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Layla Salazar was an energetic girl who had just won three first-place ribbons for athletics at school and was already planning summer sleepovers with her friends at her grandparents’ house, her grandfather Vincent Salazar said.

“My granddaughter was one that loved everything about life, and they took it away from her,” Mr. Salazar said. “They took her away from us. How do you mend a broken heart from a family as close as we had?”

Relatives from across the country have come to Uvalde to be with the family as they grieve, Mr. Salazar said. “Layla, to our family, was the heart of our life.”

Jailah Silguero, 10

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Jailah Silguero was the youngest of four children, the “baby” of her family, her father, Jacob Silguero, said. She loved going to school and seeing her friends. “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.”

Jailah’s siblings are taking it hard, Mr. Silguero said. “They just want their sister back.”

Eliahana Torres, 10

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Eliahana Torres was determined to get a hit in softball.

She was proud to be on the team for the first time but wanted to stop striking out. So her grandfather hung a ball outside the family home, and Eliahana would work on her swing after practice, over and over. “One more,” she would say, as her family told her to come in for bed. “One more.”

Her family said she was a steadfast, incandescent presence in the home she shared with her grandparents, mother and aunt. She loved to scare her aunt, Laura Cabrales, by springing out from behind a door and shouting “Boo!” She danced around in front of her phone and belted out Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.”

“She was my love,” her grandfather, Victor M. Cabrales, said. “She was one of a kind.”

After Mr. Cabrales had heart surgery a few years ago, Eliahana accompanied him on his doctor-prescribed walks. She made sure her grandparents took their medications. On hot days, she would pour a glass of ice water and have it waiting for her grandfather when he came home from work. The family jokingly called her “enfermerita,” the little nurse.

Rojelio Torres, 10

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Rojelio Torres was the second-oldest of four children and always helped his siblings, his aunt Euodulia Orta said.

“We’re still trying to cope with it,” she said. “We don’t know what to do.”

“He was a loving person,” she added. “He loved his siblings.”

Clockwise from top left: Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo, 10; Makenna Lee Elrod, 10; Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10; Alithia Haven Ramirez, 10

Eva Mireles, 44

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Eva Mireles loved teaching at Robb Elementary School. She was athletic and ran marathons. 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.”

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.”

Irma Garcia, 48

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Irma Garcia, a teacher for more than two decades, was known as a steadfast optimist in her family. She cracked jokes at gatherings in Uvalde, sang her favorite classic rock tunes at parties and helped a 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.

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.”

Her husband of 24 years, Joe Garcia, died of a heart attack two days after the shooting. He had gone to her memorial on Thursday morning to drop off flowers, ruptured by the grief of losing the love of his life, Mr. Martinez said.

Reporting was contributed by David Montgomery, Karen Zraick, Richard Fausset, Jack Healy, Eduardo Medina, Christina Morales, Josh Peck, Campbell Robertson, Edgar Sandoval, Alex Traub and John Yoon.

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