Less than two miles from Robb Elementary, where at least 19 children and two adults were killed by a mass shooter on Tuesday, the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center has become the epicenter for families seeking their children.
Families gathered in silence outside the center for more than 12 hours † that served as the polling station for Tuesday’s second round † waiting for updates.
At least four families told DailyExpertNews that parents had been asked for DNA swabs to confirm their relationship with their children and that they had to wait an hour for a response.
A father, having just received the news that his child was dead, fought back tears as several of his cousins hugged him.
A few feet away, a grandmother who’d driven from San Antonio said she wouldn’t stop praying for her 10-year-old granddaughter while they waited for the DNA swabs results.
In the civic center, city workers distributed pizza, snacks and water to families. Some parents waited in silence or sobbed silently as a group of children sat on the floor playing with teddy bears. Later, a group of local pastors and chaplains arrived to offer their support to the families.
Zinna Aguilera, a 61-year-old bookkeeper who lives across from the elementary school, said she first learned about the shooting when a friend called her to ask if her granddaughter had stayed home on Tuesday.
“It’s pathetic. You never thought this would happen in Uvalde, Texas. I’ve lived here for 32 years, I went to this school, my sisters, my brothers, my grandchildren, my daughters, everyone. If you lived in this area , you went to this school’, Aguilera says.
People in this largely Hispanic neighborhood sat outside their homes after the shooting, some with their families, others with neighbors.
“We’ve always been in this neighborhood. We have cousins, brothers, sisters, nieces, cousins who live on the same streets or within a few blocks,” Aguilera said.
Across the street from the school, Adolfo Cruz waited for word about his 10-year-old granddaughter.
The 69-year-old air-conditioning contractor answered calls from concerned relatives and friends as he watched local and state law enforcement officers enter the school building.
Cruz, a cancer survivor, said he couldn’t lose hope but wondered how no school officials could stop the gunman from entering the campus.
“Where were they (officers)? How did he get over the school gate?” said Cruz.
Adela Martinez and her husband Paul Martinez, a former city councilor and former owner of a furniture store, spoke about the grief that spread over this city of 16,000 inhabitants.
“We are here like one big family. In big cities like New York you can expect something like this (shooting), but in Uvalde? If this happened here, I believe it can now happen anywhere,” said Adela Martinez.