UVALDE, Texas (Reuters) -The grieving Texas town of Uvalde begins laying to rest the 21 children and teachers who were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school a week ago, with funerals scheduled Tuesday for a pair of 10-year-old girls.
According to obituaries on the websites of Uvalde’s two funeral homes, Amerie Jo Garza was sweet, sassy and funny, and loved swimming and drawing. Maite Yuleana Rodriguez was an honor student who loved learning about whales and dolphins and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.
Amerie’s funeral was set for Tuesday afternoon at Uvalde’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and services for Maite will take place in the evening at a funeral home.
The children were killed along with 17 other students, all aged 9 to 11, and two teachers by an 18-year-old gunman who burst into their fourth-grade classroom and opened fire with a high-velocity AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.
“Our focus on Tuesday is on our families who lost loved ones. We begin burying our children tomorrow, the innocent victims of last week’s murders at Robb Elementary School,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said in a statement announcing the cancellation of a scheduled city council meeting on Tuesday.
Several large media outlets in Texas, including the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Tribune, observed 21 minutes of silence – one minute for each of the victims – on Tuesday.
“So many of us are grieving for the city of Uvalde, for the moms and dads and sisters and brothers, for husbands and daughters of those who will never again hear the laughter of their loved ones,” KXAS-TV, an NBC affiliate in Dallas, said in a statement on its website.
Over the next two weeks, a series of funerals will take place in the town of 16,000, which is nearly 80% Latino or Hispanic and largely Roman Catholic.
Among those are services for the two teachers who died, Eva Mireles, 44, and Irma Garcia, 48. Garcia’s husband, Jose Garcia, 50, died of a heart attack two days after the shooting. A joint funeral is planned on Wednesday for the couple, who met in high school and had four children.
At the city council meeting that was canceled, Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police department, had been scheduled to be sworn in as a new member.
Arredondo has come under severe criticism for his response to the shooting. He was the on-scene commander who decided against storming the classroom where the shooter opened fire, erroneously believing he had time to mount an assault, according to state public safety officials.
Local police waited outside the classroom for nearly an hour as children called the 911 emergency number pleading for help before a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team burst in and killed the shooter.
Videos have emerged showing the chaotic scene outside of the school where desperate parents gathered as police responded to the attack. One video, shot by a bystander and aired on CNN on Tuesday, picked up radio traffic of a child’s call to police.
“Are you injured?” an adult is heard asking in the video.
“I got shot,” the frantic child said before the audio became unintelligible.
As the town grieves, the country again grapples with whether to reform federal and state gun laws, which in Texas allowed the shooter to legally buy an AR-15-style weapon on his 18th birthday, a week before the massacre.
The shooter bought hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a second rifle in the subsequent days.
Many Democrats, including U.S. President Joe Biden, who traveled to Uvalde on Sunday to comfort the town, have called for more restrictions, including a ban on assault-style weapons and universal background checks.
Republicans have successfully held off tougher gun laws, and in many states expanded gun rights in recent years, saying gun control only deprives law-abiding citizens of their rights.
Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson expressed his willingness for a “conversation” on raising the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21.
“I think you’ve got to be able to talk about the AR-15 style weapons. And whether that’s an 18 or 21 age. You have to at least have a conversation,” Hutchinson told CNN on Tuesday.