By ELLIOT SPAGAT and STEPHEN GROVES Associated Press
UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Jacklyn Cazares hadn’t yet reached her 10th birthday, but she was already a tough-minded “firecracker” always looking to help people in need, her father said. Jacklyn and her second cousin, Annabelle 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.”
The girls were among 19 students killed Tuesday when an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom at the school in the southwestern Texas town of Uvalde and began to kill. Their families can only cling to memories, and each other.
Jacklyn would have turned 10 on June 10. Despite her young age, she was equal parts 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 — she had an awards ceremony that morning. About 90 minutes later, the family got a call: An active shooter was in the school.
“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 how the police were responding and even raised the idea of rushing into the school with several other bystanders.
Cazares said his niece followed an ambulance to the hospital and saw Jacklyn taken inside. The entire family soon joined and pressed hospital officials for information for nearly three hours. They begged, cried and showed them photos of their daughter. Finally, a pastor, police officer and a doctor met with them.
“My wife asked the question, ‘Is she alive or is she passed?'” Cazares said. “They were like, ‘No, she’s gone.'”
Cazares fought back tears as he pondered how long his daughter was in the classroom with the gunman before she was killed. He finds some solace in believing that in her final moments, Jacklyn was doing what came naturally to her — helping her fellow students.
“It kind of comforts our hearts that she would be one of the ones that was brave and tried to help as much as she could,” he said.
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 husband of one of the slain teachers, Irma Garcia, had died.
The Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary confirmed the death of Joe Garcia, but did not disclose the cause or when he died. The couple had four children.
“PLEASE PRAY FOR OUR FAMILY, God have mercy on us, this isn’t easy,” a nephew, John Martinez, wrote on Twitter of Joe Garcia’s death.
Irma Garcia, 48, had been teaching for 23 years, her obituary said, and co-taught five of them with Eva Mireles, who also was killed.
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.
Mirales 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 Naveah’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” Aniyah, 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.”
Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, which is across the street from Robb Elementary, began posting brief obituaries of some of the victims. It was assisting families of the shooting victims with no cost for funerals. GoFundMe pages were set up for many of the victims, including one on behalf of all victims that has raised more than $3 million.
Groves reported from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Find more of the AP’s coverage of the Uvalde school shooting at https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings