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Thursday August 11th, 2022 4:29AM

Daughter and her best friends 'are all gone now,' dad says

By The Associated Press
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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.

Maite Rodríguez, 10, got straight Fs when classes went on Zoom during the pandemic, having gotten straight As before. The day she died was supposed to be a day of triumph.

Maite made the honor roll for straight As and Bs this year and was publicly recognized at an assembly on Tuesday, said Ana Rodríguez, her mother.

“She worked hard, I only encouraged her,” 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.

Maite especially liked physical education. After she died, her teacher texted her mother that she was highly competitive at kickball and ran faster than all the boys.

Maite was “focused, competitive, smart, bright, beautiful, happy,” her mother said.

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.”

Rodriguez hosted a steady stream of visitors and said she hasn’t started to grieve. She was deeply touched by one of her brother’s friends who recently graduated from Texas A&M and gave her the red cardboard cylinder that held the diploma.

Rodriguez didn’t want to relive Tuesday’s events but was upset by reports that police waited outside the school as shots were fired. She said she advocates stricter gun laws.

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

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 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. 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

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