Day of triumph turned to day of tragedy for honor student

May 26, 2022, 7:31 PM | Updated: May 27, 2022, 2:51 pm
Protesters carry crosses with photos of victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, T...

Protesters carry crosses with photos of victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, as they demonstrate outside the George R. Brown Convention Center where the National Rifle Association's annual meeting is held in Houston, Friday, May 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Tuesday should have been a day of triumph for 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez. Instead, it was the day she died.

Maite was among 19 grade school students who, along with two teachers, were shot to death at Robb Elementary School in the southwestern Texas town of Uvalde. The 18-year-old gunman also died.

Maite liked and excelled at physical education — after her death, her teacher texted her mother to say she was very competitive at kickball and ran faster than all the boys.

She had always been a straight-A student until the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to cancel in-person classes. Zoom didn’t work well for Maite — she got all Fs. But with school back in session, Maite rebounded — all As and Bs. She was among the honor roll students recognized at an assembly Tuesday morning.

“She worked hard, I only encouraged her,” her mother, Ana Rodríguez, said in an interview Thursday at her dining room table, which displayed a bouquet of red roses, the honor roll certificate and photos of Maite.

Hours later, Maite was gone. Her mother described her as “focused, competitive, smart, bright, beautiful, happy.”

As a kindergartner, Maite said she wanted to be a marine biologist and held firmly to that goal. She researched a program at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi and told her mother she was set on studying there.

“She was just so driven. She was definitely special. She was going to be something, she was going to be something very, very special,” Rodríguez said.

Jacklyn Cazares, who would have turned 10 on June 10, was a tough-minded “firecracker” who wanted to help people in need, her father said. Jacklyn and her second cousin, Annabell Rodriguez, were especially tight with three other classmates at Robb Elementary School.

“They are all gone now,” Javier Cazares said. “All her little best friends were killed too.”

Despite her young age, Jacklyn was tough-minded and compassionate.

“She had a voice,” her father said. “She didn’t like bullies, she didn’t like kids being picked on. All in all, full of love. She had a big heart.”

“She was a character, a little firecracker.”

Cazares drove his daughter to school Tuesday for the awards ceremony. About 90 minutes later, the family got a call about an active shooter.

“I drove like a bat out of hell,” he said. “My baby was in trouble.”

“There was more than 100 people out there waiting. It was chaotic,” he said of the scene at the school. He grew impatient with the police response and even raised the idea of rushing inside with other bystanders.

Cazares said his niece followed an ambulance to the hospital and saw Jacklyn being taken inside. The entire family soon arrived and pressed hospital officials for information for nearly three hours. They begged, cried and showed photos of Jacklyn. Finally, a pastor, police officer and a doctor came to them.

“My wife asked the question, ‘Is she alive or is she passed?'” Cazares said. “They were like, ‘No, she’s gone.'”

Ryan Ramirez also rushed to Robb Elementary when he heard about the shooting, hoping to find his daughter, Alithia, and take her home, KTRK-TV reported. But Alithia, too, was among the victims.

Ramirez’s Facebook page includes a photo, now shown around the world, of the little girl wearing the multi-colored T-shirt that announced she was out of “single digits” after turning 10 years old. The same photo was posted again Wednesday with no words, but with Alithia wearing angel wings.

The grief only grew Thursday with confirmation that the brokenhearted husband of one of the slain teachers, 48-year-old Irma Garcia, had died.

Joe Garcia, 50, had dropped off flowers at his wife’s memorial on Thursday morning, The New York Times reported. He “pretty much just fell over” after returning home and died of a heart attack, his nephew John Martinez told the newspaper.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary confirmed Joe Garcia’s death to The Associated Press. AP was unable to independently reach members of the Garcia family on Thursday.

Married for 24 years, the couple shared four children. In a post on the school’s website at the start of the school year introducing herself to her class, Irma Garcia wrote of her love of barbecue, listening to music and taking “country cruises” to the nearby town of Concan.

The school year, scheduled to end Thursday, was Irma’s 23rd year of teaching — all of it at Robb Elementary School. She had been previously named the school’s teacher of the year and was a 2019 recipient of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Education from Trinity University.

For five years, Irma had co-taught with Eva Mireles, who also was killed.

Mireles also posted on the site as the school year began, noting she had been teaching 17 years. She cited her “supportive, fun, and loving family.”

“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” she wrote.

Two of the victims had hoped to skip school that day.

Carmelo Quiroz’s grandson, Jayce Luevanos, 10, had begged to go along with his grandmother on Tuesday as she accompanied her great-granddaughter’s kindergarten class to the San Antonio Zoo. But, he said, the family told Jayce it didn’t make sense to skip school so close to the end of the year. Besides, Jayce liked school.

“That’s why my wife is hurting so much, because he wanted to go to San Antonio,” Quiroz told USA Today. “He was so sad he couldn’t go. Maybe if he would have gone, he’d be here.”

Jayce’s cousin, 10-year-old Jailah Nicole Silguero, also wanted to miss school that day. Jailah’s mother, Veronica Luevanos, tearfully told Univision that Jailah seemed to sense something bad was going to happen.

Jailah’s friend, Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo, also was killed and her aunt noted Neveah’s first name is heaven spelled backward. In a Facebook posting, Yvonne White described Nevaeh and Jailah as “Our Angels.”

Two men who responded to the shooting discovered their own children among the victims.

Uvalde County Sheriff’s Deputy Felix Rubio and his wife had been at the school Tuesday morning to celebrate with their daughter, 10-year-old Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, since the fourth-grader had made honor roll with all A’s and received a good citizen award.

In a Facebook post, Kimberly Rubio wrote: “We told her we loved her and would pick her up after school. We had no idea this was goodbye.”

Medical assistant Angel Garza also hurried to the school and immediately found a girl covered in blood among the terrified children streaming out of the building.

“I’m not hurt. He shot my best friend,” the girl told Garza when he offered help. “She’s not breathing. She was just trying to call the cops.”

Her friend was Amerie Jo Garza — Angel Garza’s stepdaughter.

Amerie was a happy child who made the honor roll and loved to paint, draw and work in clay. “She was very creative,” said her grandmother Dora Mendoza. “She was my baby. Whenever she saw flowers she would draw them.”

GoFundMe pages were set up for many of the victims, including one on behalf of all victims that has raised more than $3.7 million.

___

This story has been corrected to show Lexi’s last name is Rubio, not Aniyah. It also corrects the spelling of another victim’s name. She was Annabell Rodriguez, not Annabelle.

___

Groves reported from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

___

Find more of the AP’s coverage of the Uvalde school shooting at https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Day of triumph turned to day of tragedy for honor student