Outpouring from elsewhere swells crowds at Uvalde’s rituals of grief and mourning

UVALDE — David Graham is a long way from Ohio, but that didn’t stop him from packing his van for a trip to Texas born out of pure love from a broken heart.

He does not know of any of the 19 children and two teachers killed in the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. But you would never have known that by the red heart he spray-painted on the grass on Tuesday at a corner of Grove Street where he could see hearses passing en route to the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart.

Graham wept as he took off his cowboy hat and held it to his heart on Tuesday when a funeral procession passed by mid-morning – although he was not a victim of the shooting.

A few hours later, he would see the motorcade for Amerie Jo Garza, the 10-year-old girl described in her family’s obituary as a kind, caring, outspoken, loving, sweet, sassy and of course funny little diva “with a heart of love. who wanted to be an art teacher.

She would be the first of the victims to be buried.

Graham, 63, drove in from Bellville, Ohio, near Columbus, Ohio, where he is a semi-retired farmer.

“I came here because I have a heart to lend to people,” Graham said, fighting back tears. “I just want to try to leave a drop of love.”

For Hector Gomez, from Uvalde, this gesture – from a stranger who has quickly become a brother – is exactly what his ailing community of 16,000 people needs.

“It means a lot to me,” said Gomez, 64, who attended Robb Elementary as a child. “You see the innocent (disappeared) children and teachers. But the community has been so beautiful… People have come from all parts of the country.

Belinda Garcia of San Antonio was shaking and crying as she left Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home. Her family came to Uvalde to deliver handmade rosaries to each of the families.

“Something to comfort them,” she said through tears.

She had made a special one for 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez. It is blue and adorned with turtles. Garcia read that Maite wanted to be a marine biologist when she was growing up.

There was a heavy police presence at the funeral home, which is directly across from the school. Visits from two victims, Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo and Jose Manuel Flores Jr., both 10, were expected to last well into the night.

Visitors were forced past the very spot where the gunman a week earlier had rammed metal barriers into a drainage ditch before abandoning his vehicle and attacking the school.

Several quietly walked across the street from the funeral home to look at the school, briefly standing in front of the yellow crime scene tape that still surrounds it.

Rachel Rangel, from Uvalde, tried to make it to the funeral home in time to pay her respects to Amerie Jo, but there was a queue. She said she couldn’t imagine how people would get through the coming days of funerals and wakes.

“It’s very difficult,” she said. “There were innocent children who had no chance in life.”

Her grandson is a second-grader at Robb Elementary. After an award ceremony on campus the morning of May 24, Rangel said, something told him to sign it off as soon as it was over.

Sara Guerrero and her sister drove up from Del Rio and said they were filled with grief as they paid their respects at the school.

A fifth-grade teacher herself at Bible Way Christian Academy, Guerrero noted a silence that weighed on Robb.

“You feel it in your chest,” she said. “Walking here, my chest feels so heavy.”

Guerrero said she couldn’t imagine being in a situation where she couldn’t protect her students. The love and care coming from other cities has given her a sense of upliftment, knowing that Uvalde is not alone, she said.

Dora Valdez, 58, had just opened her shop, Dory’s Beauty Salon, as people arrived for the Amerie service at the nearby Church of the Sacred Heart. Valdez has been cutting hair in Uvalde for years, and many of his clients lost loved ones in the shooting.

The porters wore white shirts with the girl’s name on the sleeves. One of them carried an empty case.

A grandmother, Valdez said in Spanish that the grief was hers too. It was for everyone…”Get in the mood“, Valdez said, you feel it around you, in the air, in the environment.

A steady stream of mourners refused to speak as they left the Rushing Estes Knowles morgue, where visits for the first of the slain teachers, Irma Linda Garcia, 48 – and for her husband, Jose Antonio “Joe” Garcia, 50, who died of a heart attack two days after the shooting — began in the afternoon.

The family’s obituary spoke of Irma Garcia “selflessly protecting her angels” and noted that the couple “started their relationship in high school and it grew into a beautiful and kind love”.

The funeral home’s online guestbook drew prayers for Uvalde from people across the city, Texas and the United States. Many identified themselves as educators. Some left only their first names. More than 75 registrations had been registered on Tuesday.

“Know that you are not alone and we grieve for you all,” wrote Kimberley Fuller from Georgia.

“I just hope you find comfort within your community and know that the whole country sends you love,” added Jennifer Gustin of Puyallup, Wash.

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