“Dios! Dios! Dios!,” one woman could be heard crying as she entered the funeral home.
Women’s heads draped with black cloth and men wearing mirrored sunglasses slowly made their way through the door just before sunset on this warm southwest Texas evening. On Wednesday they would lay the Garcias into what they pray will be everlasting peace, but on Tuesday night they came together to mourn and grieve.
“I can’t believe they are gone,” said Minerva Rosas, a family friend. “They were like family to us ever since we got here.”
Rosas and her family arrived here undocumented from southern Mexico two years ago and have known the Garcias ever since.
“Irma was more than a teacher,” Rosas said in Spanish. “She was the person who actually helped get things done for my family without asking many questions.”
Rosas said that Irma and Joe both helped them get work visas and find permanent housing, and jobs.
“There are not a lot of people who are willing to help people like us,” Rosas said. “When we got here and found out that so many people had bad feelings towards families like us we became scared and really frightened. But then we met Irma and everything changed.”
“A madman was able to walk into her classroom and kill her and those little babies,” one family friend, Mira Leal, said through tears. “My friend and all of those little babies were gunned down in cold blood while the police just watched. I’m kind of scared because somebody could just walk in here and do the same thing to us right now. I feel like I can’t even grieve because of this fear.”
Mira held a cross in her hands as she wiped tears from her eyes.
“I feel like this is just all too much for me to carry.”
“I am angry, hurt, and just torn apart,” says Alecia Cortez, another friend, who said that real closure will not come until there’s an honest account of what happened at Robb elementary school, and how the police responded to it.
“A member of my family was shot dead a few years ago and we never got any answers,” she said. “I am not convinced that the police even looked for them because they were, you know, not legal.”
“We hear the mayor going on TV now talking about accountability and transparency,” said Michael Mata.
“We had somebody here come and ask tough questions last week and the mayor just cussed at him and shouted him down,” he continued, referring to what happened when Texas Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke tried to question and confront sitting Governor Greg Abbott at a press conference. Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin, in the podium with Abbott, called O'Rourke “a sick son of a bitch” and accused him of trying to “make a political issue” of the massacre by demanding laws to prevent future ones.
“It is that kind of thing that we don’t need right now,” Mata said at the service held on the same day that the mayor gave the oath of office to Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who has not responded to requests from state cops for a second interview about what happened at the school on his watch but did find the time to join the City Council as a newly elected member.
“We don’t need him trying to play games here. This town needs a leader and these families need somebody to act on their behalf.”
Instead, said Crystal Izaguirre, things were already returning to a grim sort of normal, as “the funerals have begun and you can already see fewer media here in town than last week.”
She continued: “I guess we will be the forgotten Mexicans near the border who don’t have money and clout. We will soon just be like we always were and go about our lives vulnerable and poor.”
While “you have promises of help and promises of peace from everyone,” she said, “right now I don’t feel it or see it.”
The pain will play out over and over again as each family grieves and a tiny community tries to come to terms with its unimaginable loss.
“I feel like being small and forgotten made us safe,” Izaguirre says. “I guess I was wrong. I need to try and go inside to at least say good-bye.”
As to the Garcias,“they loved their children and their family,” said Jorge Contrerras, 43, who attended church with the couple and had worked with Joe, who he remembers as “that one person you could turn to with anything and he’d always be there with a smile.”
“They loved their children and their family,” Contrerras said. “By family, I mean their friends. We were all family.”