Xavier Lopez, 10, made the honour roll on the day he was killed.
He was eager to share the news with his three brothers, but Xavier’s grandparents said he decided to stay at Robb Elementary School following an end-of-year ceremony to watch a movie and eat popcorn with another family he cherished: his fourth-grade classmates.
Xavier’s classroom, where a nightmare erupted when a gunman burst in and killed 19 children and two teachers, reflected the close-knit character of Uvalde, a Mexican American ranching town in southern Texas where lives are braided together by generations of friendships and marriage.
There was Xavier and his elementary-school sweetheart, who was also killed in the shooting. There were cousins Jackie Cazares, who had her First Communion two weeks ago, and Annabelle Rodriguez, an honour-roll student. There was Amerie Jo Garza, a grinning 10-year-old whose father said she “talked to everybody” at recess and lunch.
On Wednesday, their deaths united Uvalde in anguish as families began to grapple with the toll of the deadliest school massacre since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, 10 years ago.
“Why? Why him? Why the kids?” Leonard Sandoval, 54, Xavier’s grandfather, said as he stood outside the family’s home, holding one of Xavier’s younger brothers by his side as relatives and friends trickled up the driveway to drop off bottled water and fried chicken.
They remembered Xavier as an exuberant baseball and soccer player who jumped at the chance to help his father do landscaping work or dance around on TikTok videos with his siblings and cousins.
Everyone in Uvalde, a town of 15,200 about 60 miles from the country’s southern border, seemed to know one of the children who had been gunned down. Or had gone to high school with one of the victims’ parents or grandparents. Or had lost several family members.
“I lost two,” George Rodriguez, 72, said in between sobs as he climbed out of his Domino’s pizza delivery truck to greet a friend on Wednesday afternoon.
“My grandson and a niece. I lost two.”
“I know, I know,” Rodriguez’s friend, Joe Costilla, replied. “We lost our cousin too.” The scene replayed itself again and again across the leafy neighbourhoods of modest homes surrounding the elementary school where about 90 per cent of the 500 students are Hispanic.
Cousins, aunts and uncles pulled up in pick-up trucks. Crying friends shared long hugs on families’ front lawns. Mourners drove from house to house and made phone call after phone call, stitching together an unofficial roster of the dead before law enforcement officials had publicly identified the victims.
“If you drive through town, you can already feel it’s different,” said Liza Cazares, whose husband lost two 10-year-old cousins in the attack. “Those were 21 lives that we can’t get back”
Rodriguez said he had attended counselling at the civic centre early on Wednesday, but it offered him little reprieve from the pain. Instead, he said he asked his supervisor at Domino’s if he could pick up a shift.
“I just could not stay home and think about what happened all day,” Rodriguez said. “I had to work and try to distract my mind.”
He pulled a photo from his wallet showing 10-year-old Jose Flores — “my little Josécito — whom Rodriguez said he had raised as a grandson. The boy wore a rose-coloured T-shirt saying, “Tough guys wear pink.” Rodriguez broke down crying.
Costilla said he was a cousin by marriage of Eva Mireles, a beloved teacher at Robb Elementary who befriended children and adults with the same ease.
New York Times News Service  

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