Eliana “Ellie” Garcia was the second eldest of five daughters. A helper around the house who loved “Encanto,” cheerleading and basketball, she dreamed of wearing a purple dress to her quinceañera and becoming a teacher.
But on Tuesday, Ellie was one of 21 people — including 19 children — killed by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
She was 9 years old.
“This morning I got up and thought, what a dream I had,” Ellie’s grandmother Nelda Lugo, 63, said Wednesday from her living room, where she sat surrounded by family and friends.
Lugo had been stockpiling gifts for Ellie’s birthday on June 4: leggings and Legos. Ellie’s father, a car salesman and DJ, planned to handle the music — lots of cumbias, which Ellie liked to dance to at her grandparents’ house as she recorded TikTok videos.
Similar nightmares are playing out in households across Uvalde, some 80 miles west of San Antonio. In the agonizing hours after the shooting, screams could be heard from the city’s civic center as parents, grandparents, cousins and friends learned — one by one — that their loved ones had been killed.
“It’s a small town, so no one is going to be unaffected,” Uvalde County Commissioner John Yeackle told The Times. “There won’t be anybody that doesn’t know — either directly or indirectly — either family or friends that are going to be affected by this.”
Many of the victims had been publicly identified only by friends and family as of Wednesday evening. According to those reports, nearly all of the victims, save for two teachers, were under the age of 11. Among them were at least two pairs of cousins. Several had received honor roll certificates the morning of the shooting.
“My beautiful, smart, Alexandria Aniyah Rubio was recognized today for All-A honor roll,” Kimberly Mata-Rubio wrote in a post about her daughter on Facebook. “She also received the good citizen award. We told her we loved her and would pick her up after school. We had no idea this was goodbye.”
Jose Flores, Amerie Jo Garza and Xavier Lopez, all 10, along with Maite Rodriguez, whose age has not yet been confirmed, had also received honor roll certificates just hours before they were killed.
“Thank you everyone for the prayers and help trying to find my baby,” Amerie Jo’s father, Angel Garza, wrote in a post on Facebook around midnight after the shooting. “She’s been found. My little love is now flying high with the angels above. Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them.”
Photos of the children shared across social media showed them with big grins as they posed with their certificates in front of a glittery gold background and a “Robb ’22″ banner.
There were also athletes and artists among the kids, including Eliahana Cruz Torres, whose aunt told KENS-TV that the 10-year-old was excited to play her final softball game of the school year, scheduled for the day of the shooting.
Another student, Makenna Lee Elrod, 10, was pictured on Facebook in a cheerleading uniform, with a big pink bow in her hair. The family friend who shared the image said Makenna and her daughter were “tumbling buddies,” and that just weeks ago Makenna had given her daughter a friendship bracelet that she wears every day.
Ten-year-old Layla Salazar won six races at the school’s field day, her father told the Associated Press.
“She was just a whole lot of fun,” Vincent Salazar said, adding that she liked dancing to TikTok videos, and singing along with him to the Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” every morning on the way to school.
Her classmate, 10-year-old Alithia Ramirez, loved to draw and dreamed of being an artist. She had recently submitted a drawing to the “Doodle for Google” contest, her father, Ryan Ramirez, told San Antonio TV station KSAT.
On Wednesday morning, he posted a photo of Alithia with angel wings.
The shooting rocked the community and left many stunned with grief. At Uvalde Memorial Hospital, Juan “Junior” Cazares was back at work Wednesday after losing two cousins in the shooting. He said staff members who had treated the children were still crying, including some who also lost relatives.
“They’re hurt so bad, having to wake up to this tragedy,” Cazares said. “It’s a lot of sadness here.”
Cazares said he kept thinking about his cousins and how they, too, passed through the hospital doors and never left.
According to initial reports, at least two sets of cousins were killed by the gunman: Jackie Cazares and Annabell Rodriguez, both 10, and Jayce Luevanos and Jailah Nicole Silguero, also both 10.
Jailah’s mother, Veronica Luevanos, sobbed as she told Univision how much Jailah loved to dance and film TikTok videos.
“I took her to school, but she didn’t want to go. She told her father, ‘Can I stay home?’” Luevanos recalled, adding that Jailah didn’t often ask to do so. “I think she knew something would happen.”
Luevanos said her brother was taking his son Jayce’s death hard too.
Fourth-grader Tess Marie Mata was remembered for making her family smile.
In a series of Facebook pictures shared by her sister, Faith Mata, Tess can be seen grinning in a baby photo, snoozing in bed, snuggling with a cat, doing the splits, flashing a peace sign and posing in front of a large mural of a heart.
“Sissy I miss you so much,” Faith wrote. “I just want to hold you and tell you how pretty you are, I want to take you outside and practice softball, I want to go on one last family vacation, I want to hear your contagious laugh, and I want you to hear me tell you how much I love you.”
Also among those killed were Miranda Mathis, 11, Rojelio Torres, 10, and Nevaeh Bravo, whose age has not yet been confirmed.
One of the youngest victims, 8-year-old Uziyah Garcia, was remembered by his grandfather Manny Renfro as “the type of kid that could get interested in anything in five minutes.”
“Just the perfect kid, as far as I’m concerned,” Renfro told The Times, adding that Uziyah liked football, baseball and video games.
Uziyah and his two sisters had lived with him and his grandmother for more than five years, said Renfro, who added that he’d “never had an ounce of trouble out of him.”
“We had a tight relationship, me and my grandson, and I don’t have him anymore,” Renfro said, his voice breaking with emotion. “I lost my grandson at the hands of a very evil person.”
Two veteran teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, were also killed in the massacre.
“My tia did not make it,” John Martinez wrote in a tweet about Garcia, his aunt. “She sacrificed herself protecting the kids in her classroom … and she died a HERO. She was loved by many and will truly be missed.”
Garcia had been a teacher at Robb Elementary for 23 years. According to her school profile, she loved to “BBQ with [her] husband, listen to music, and take country cruises to Concan.”
She had been married for 24 years and was the mother of four children, the profile says.
Mireles, 44, was one of the first victims to be identified after the shooting. She had worked for the school district for 17 years, and her husband, Ruben Ruiz, is a police officer in the district, according to her aunt, Lydia Martinez Delgado.
“My niece Eva lost her life protecting her students,” Martinez Delgado said in a message to The Times. “It shouldn’t have to be like this.”
In a post on Twitter, Mireles’ daughter described her mother as “the half that makes me whole.”
“You are so known by many now and I’m so happy that people know your name and that beautiful face of yours and they know what a hero looks like,” she wrote, adding: “My heart will forever be broken.”
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Uvalde, and Smith and Reyes-Velarde from Los Angeles.