you might want to look away. but the horrors of the last two weeks demand we do more than pause and pick right up again. this week, the place was a school in a small town in texas, a fourth-grade classroom the site of the worst of it. ten days before, it was a supermarket in buffalo, new york.
ever since my second or third day on the job at the chicago tribune, i’ve been writing obits, those few short sentences or maybe a handful of paragraphs in which we try to capture the essence of who someone was. it’s a record for the ages, ones that used to be pasted into the pages of a family album, or carefully scissored out of the paper and tucked in the page of a bedside book or a bible. or a wallet. the ones in wallets always choked me up the most, when years later someone would pull out from their purse or their back pocket a worn leather billfold, and know right where to reach for the newspaper clipping of someone they’d loved. sometimes you found out the words you wrote in a newspaper stuck around for a very long while.
i’m afraid the someones who can change things are looking the other way, too many of them. and i won’t make even a ripple sitting here tapping out postage-stamp-sized obits for each of the 32 souls now departed, now torn from the ones they so dearly loved, the ones they would have clung to, if given half a chance. but to read of the simple quotidian joys, to assemble the notes of how and for what they were remembered, was and is a devotional gesture. it’s a genuflection in short sentences, a way to begin to absorb the hell we have wrought here.
no one should have to worry that running into the store for strawberries for shortcake might be our very last act. or that hiding in the closet of your fourth-grade classroom will be the place where you take your very last breath. something is wrong here. very very very very wrong. something is twisted and cruel and the drip-drip-drip of it all is anesthetizing, a toxic numbing takes hold. you can start to not notice.
the postage-size stories that follow are what i could find on each of the 32 victims, those from uvalde and those from the massacre in buffalo. it’s a long list, and you might not make it to the end. i’m writing it anyway. because to tell even a wisp of their stories is to begin to make real the horror of all that’s lost. their stories are utterly ordinary, a fourth-grader who swooned for a second baseman, a grandpa who ran in a store for a birthday cake.
yesterday’s news snapped into the sharpest focus the dimensions of grief we can’t grasp: the husband of one of the two uvalde teachers died of a massive heart attack in the wake of his wife’s murder. they’d been together for 24 years; high school sweethearts who married, and had four children. that’s what grief can do.
here are their stories, first the children and teachers of texas, and on to buffalo and the ten who died there…
In which, in a posture of reverence, we pause in silence to first hold up each of the 22 blessed ones who died in the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas….
Here’s the little we know:
Irma Garcia, 48, a fourth-grade teacher at Robb Elementary, a mother of four, had been married to her high school sweetheart, Joe, for 24 years. Irma died in the slaughter inside the school. Joe died of a fatal heart attack on Thursday. Their four children, two sons and two daughters, range in age from 12 to 23.
Eva Mireles, 44, a fourth-grade teacher who co-taught with Irma Garcia. Her daughter Adalynn posted this on Twitter on Wednesday: “Mom, you are a hero. I keep telling myself that this isn’t real. I just want to hear your voice,” the tribute read. “I want to thank you mom, for being such an inspiration to me. I will forever be so proud to be your daughter. My sweet mommy, I will see you again.”
Amerie Jo Garza had just turned 10. She tried to use her cell phone to call police during the shooting. Her father, Angel Garza, is a medical aide who rushed to the school, and he told this story to CNN:
After arriving at the scene, he saw a girl covered in blood who told him that someone had shot her best friend. When Garza asked who her best friend was, the girl replied, “Amerie.” His daughter.
“I just want people to know she died trying to save her classmates,” said Amerie’s father. “She just wanted to save everyone.”
Xavier Lopez, who was 10, had just been lauded at the school’s honor roll ceremony. He was funny, never serious, and he had a smile….a smile, his mother said, she would “never forget.”
Uziah Garcia, also 10, and “full of life.” He loved anything with wheels. “The sweetest boy that I’ve ever known,” said Uziah’s grandfather.
Jose Flores Jr., 10, loved baseball, video games, and was “an amazing big brother,” especially to his baby brother. “He would just be like my little shadow,” Jose’s mother, Cynthia, said. “He would just be helping me with the baby. He had a thing with babies, like my friends’ babies. He just had a thing with babies. He was always nice.” His sister, Endrea, was in another fourth-grade classroom. She survived.
Lexi Rubio, 10, made the All-A honor roll. She loved baseball and basketball and wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. “Please let the world know we miss our baby,” said her father through tears. “All I can hope is that she’s just not a number. This is enough. No one else needs to go through this.”
Tess Marie Mata, 10, had been saving her money to go to Disney World, according to her sister, Faith. She loved Ariana Grande, TikTok dances, and the Houston Astros, especially second baseman José Altuve.
Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo was 10. She put a smile on everyone’s face. Navaeh is heaven backwards.
Eliana ‘Ellie’ Garcia was 9, just about to turn 10. She dreamed of becoming a teacher, but in fourth grade she loved the movie “Encanto,” cheerleading, and basketball. She was the second oldest of five girls in her family.
Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez was 10. She died in the same classroom as her cousin, Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares.
Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares, “a little firecracker,” according to her father Jacinto, was “full of love and full of life. She would do anything for anybody.” She was 9, and died in the hospital almost three hours after the shooting.
Eliahana ‘Elijah’ Cruz Torres was 10. “Our baby gained her wings,” said her aunt Leandra Vera.
Jailah Nicole Silguero was remembered as “a bespectacled 10-year-old,” whose mother Veronica Luevanos posted updates to Facebook all through Tuesday night into the wee hours of Wednesday. She’d started posting in the hours when she didn’t know what had happened to her daughter, and she was begging for answers. When Jailah’s mother finally found out, she wrote: “I’m not ready for this,” with an image of a broken heart, and a link to Jailah’s obituary. Just before 3 a.m., Veronica wrote: “I’m so heart broken.” Later she added: “My baby you didn’t deserve this neither did your classmates. R.I.P my beautiful angel.”
Jayce Luevanos, 10, whose cousin Jailah (above) was also killed, lived with his grandfather, and every morning Jayce made his grandpa a pot of coffee.
Miranda Mathis was 11, and very smart. Her best friend was her brother, who was in another classroom when the gunfire broke out in Miranda’s classroom.
Makenna Lee Elrod was 10. She loved to dance and sing and she “made friends everywhere she went.” She was beautiful, smart, and funny, and her smile “would light up a room.”
Layla Salazar, 10, won six blue ribbons at her school’s field day. Her father, Vincent Salazar, shared a video of his daughter on Facebook; he captioned the video: “Run with the angels baby!”
Alithia Ramirez had just turned 10. When her parents welcomed Beto O’Rourke into their home in the hours after the shooting, birthday balloons and her artwork were still taped to the walls. “They want the world to know what a beautiful, talented, happy girl she was,” O’Rourke wrote.
Maite Rodriguez’s age is unknown at this time, though there is a photo of her proudly holding her honor roll certificate in front of the school banner. Her mom’s cousin, Raquel Silva, wrote on Facebook, on behalf of Maite’s mother, Ana: “It is with a heavy heart I come on here on behalf of my cousin Ana who lost her sweet baby girl in yesterday’s senseless shooting. Our hearts are shattered.”
Rojelio Torres, who was 10, was not identified nor his family notified till almost 12 hours after the shooting. His aunt Precious Perez told a local TV station: “We are devastated and heartbroken. Rojer was a very intelligent, hard-working and helpful person. He will be missed and never forgotten.”
and, just 10 days before, 10 more lives gunned down in the aisles of a grocery store.
Pearl Young, 77, a grandmother to eight, spent every Saturday morning volunteering at a food pantry run by her church. A “strict but loving” mother, she still worked as a high school substitute teacher. She was, her son Damon Young said, “full of joy. She just loved life, and she loved the church.” She’d stopped at the Tops Friendly Markets after going out to breakfast. Her son was going to pick her up, but suddenly her text messages stopped, and Damon’s phone filled instead with news alerts about the hell unfolding inside the store.
Ruth Whitfield, 86, was “a blessing for all those who knew her,” said her son, the retired Buffalo fire commissioner, Garnell Whitfield. Ruth had stopped at the Tops after caring all day for her husband of 68 years in the nursing home where he now resides. She was the mother of four, and doted on her family––especially her husband, constantly cutting his hair, ironing his clothes, dressing him and shaving him. “There’s very few days that she did not spend time with him attending to him,” her son said. “She was his angel.”
Andre Mackniel, 53, went to the Tops to get a birthday cake for his son. He was “selfless and generous,” a loving father and grandfather who used “to check in on everyone.” On Facebook, Mackneil’s fiancee wrote this: “Today my baby was born but today my soul mate was taken. How do I tell my son his daddy’s not coming home? How do I as a mother make it ok? Someone please tell me because I really don’t know,” she wrote.
Katherine ‘Kat’ Massey, 72, “the glue” of her very close family, had stopped at the Tops and asked to be picked up in 45 minutes. When her brother came by to get her, he saw police putting up crime tape. She sometimes wrote for the local newspaper, and one of the topics she was most concerned about: guns.
Celestine Chaney, 65, was described by her son as a “survivor,” who twice had survived brain aneurysms. Her son, Wayne Jones, said that when he was 12, he was twice called out of school to rush to the hospital, where he was told his mother wouldn’t make it through the day. His grandmother, he says, made him “go to the foot of the bed and pray.” She later survived breast cancer, but she didn’t make it out of the grocery store. “She was a beautiful person, a spunky, independent woman,” Jones said of his mom. “The life of the party, just a joy to be around.”
Margus D. Morrison, 52, was a school bus aide, a lovable guy who liked to joke. His younger brother Frederick, who said the two were “tight like best friends,” couldn’t find many words in the wake of the killing. But he did say this: “It hurts me so much right now because I wasn’t expecting to lose him.”
Heyward Patterson, 67, was at the Tops because he often drove members of his church to the store, helping them load their groceries, and then taking them home. “That’s what he did all the time,” his cousin Deborah Patterson said. “That’s what he loved to do.” He was gentlemanly, and sprightly, a “real-life, down-to-earth man.” He was a deacon in his church, and loved to sing. One relative compared him to Smokey Robinson ––“only better.”
Aaron Salter Jr., 55, a retired Buffalo police officer, was described by the Buffalo Police Commissioner as “a hero in our eyes.” He was the security guard on duty at the Tops, and he tried to take down the gunman, to spare any lives. “I’m pretty sure he saved some lives,” the commissioner said.
Roberta Drury, 32, the youngest of four siblings, had moved from Syracuse to Buffalo to help her older brother who was undergoing treatment for leukemia, and to help care for his children. Once her brother had gotten through the treatment, she’d decided to stay on and help him rehab an old bar he had bought. The Washington Post reported that as an African American child adopted at 18 months into a White family, Roberta (known as Robbie) was “no stranger to racism.” In her family, “race never mattered,” said her sister, Amanda. “So this is just ugly on a level that as a family we can barely wrap our heads around.”
Geraldine Talley, 62, was described as “the sweetest.” An avid baker, her Facebook page was filled with desserts she made for the people she loved: cream cheese apple cinnamon bread pudding, peanut butter pie, strawberry filled cupcakes. She had gone to the Tops with her fiance to get sandwich meat for a picnic down by the waterfront, and she sent him to grab a certain tea. That’s when the shooting started. According to family members, her fiance started calling her name, but didn’t see her, and then hid inside a freezer. The gunman shot the door off the freezer, but the fiance survived, and Geraldine died in the store.
may their memories be a blessing, and may their names and their stories not soon fade into the cavernous silence….
I have read and let soak in, every word you have shared. I see the faces that are no more on this earthly plane. Every one of those faces say “WHY????!!!!” to me.
This was the letter I dashed off to you that day, I did not send. I place it here, although these words are nothing, not even compost might come from them. My comment was erased on social media, as well as the original video post that referenced Coach Steve Kerr’s outrage, emotional tears that I too responded too most emotionally. Ahhh…but that is not allowed on social media- no, we must stick to the surface and never delve too deep. God forbid we speak our hearts, out of line, out of the bounds. I know too well what these parents face- the road of grief, a million miles, they’ll crawl through every one. The subject line in my letter- “Barbara, How do we…”
Oh Bam…I know you well enough to sense your threads breaching the safety zone…our hearts collectively breaking…again. I wrote this, didn’t want to- but after seeing the numb, seemingly invisible care or concern of our politically polite society…I can’t stand it. Has fear even brought us to tolerate death of children? I do not know how brains accept this…I do not understand at all. I know you are writing, and probably trying to stay on task, I do not mean to bring you more hardship, but of all the hearts I know, as loving as yours is- it is also fierce and frank.
Barbara- how do we rally above this, how do we let these parents know, and others rightfully frightened by the world they’re sending their children off to every day that we have their backs…how do they know as they bury their most precious? Do love and prayers cover it? Do words convey how badly we feel, that the bullies we teach our children to face are our own leaders and if not our leaders, then groups of disgruntled ball-less wonders who follow blatant racism and hatred of our leaders? And the only way to face them is a democratic system bought and paid for by the very manufacturers of lies and weapons? Every cell in me tingles to do something but words just spill out… only landing like rain drops on dry parched soil, the impact trickles to loss, moisturizing only the weeds at the edges. Our democracy is a weed field, the great garden that our country is- neglected to the point that even those seeds that might come from it are expected and accepted to be fertilized by blood?
After watching video on BBC no less as very few feeds on our shore would show such a clip, this coach , thank God for him. We have a local county page, often rambling political tirades but also so often talking points- the video was shared there. I was the only one, out of several thousand to comment. I was at a loss for words- but my soul spoke, at the very least- may it crack the shell that fear, misfortune, war and comfort has built.I can’t even begin to garden today- it feels less than I should be doing. But I know most intimately- one can lead a horse to water, but one cannot make the horse drink. But we are not horses, we are a humanity…
( A loss for words this morning. I agree with everything said here- except his politeness. No more questioning, there is no reason whatsoever to put a child’s life at risk because these dishonorable Senators and their ilk refuse to serve their constituents, instead they serve their pimps. NRA, Pharma, Donkeys, Elephants- these are not leaders, they’re leeches. And we all are seemingly willing donors. But our children? Were they willing? Our elders?! I hope from this bottomless groundswell of pain, strength rises to the people, to the heart of the people- that is neither numb or dumb. I refuse to let my vote be the only voice I have- we all have the strength in us to rise above, to declare and demand life, liberty and justice for all. If our civil servants can be bought and sold, we must begin this day to shop elsewhere. Background checks are a moral and equitable choice. Those background checks though should begin at the top- 50 Senators with blood on their hands, what motivates them to proceed knowingly?! What is their logic? $$$ is not logic, it’s an insane position of pleasure and power at the dire expense of the American people.)
Our outrage must take a shape country wide, it has to. I pray those parents and loved ones see something being done. Not political diatribe, those children were neither democrats or republicans- they were children, innocent, full of wonder and trust. Do we not value our children above all else? Yes we say, yes. Yes. Yes. But there’s blood on the school bell, can we not hear that saturated ring? It’s echoes are perverse…
oh the parents, poor sweet parents- for them, it’s just begun-their questions in the multitudes, and answers they’ll find- none.
Oh my beloved Terry who knows a grief I pray — dear God, I pray — I never know. Your every word and breath and utterance soaks deep into me. I respond with resounding Yes. God love you. I know I do.
God love you. I don’t know how you write like you do, with tears…on top of tears. I love you, I hope you know your deep insight and elevation all at the same time, means so much to so many. My heart goes out to you, the teller- and to the families you honored here. I wished I could tell them, we’ll never let this happen again. I pray for their solace, I can’t imagine their steps.
I’m convinced it was hand of God that led me to hop on Double Nickel (I-55) to motor down to the loveliest farm I ever did see — Beau’s Farm — to swing on that porch swing, and walk through the peacock-feather-strewn gardens to meet one of the true prophets of my life. Since writing the words above early this morning, I’ve learned this about Irma Garcia, the teacher whose husband died of a broken heart after going to the school Wednesday morning to lay flowers at the white cross planted with her name. Police found her in the classroom, dead, with her arms around several children. As her nephew or cousin was quoted in the Times or the Post, till her very last breath she was protecting her children. God bless her. We will not forget that imagine. Pieta, indeed. Bless her, bless her, a thousand times bless her…..xoxo (and you, my beautiful prophet friend.)
BAM, thank you for so beautifully and poignantly sharing these stories of ordinary and extraordinary people! When will we ever learn?!?
A question we pray soon finds an answer….
I got through the kid’s obits, but couldn’t go any further. I know we’re all trying to find to make sense of this, find a way to change things. The wisest word so far that I’ve heard came from AOC last night on her instagram page, telling people that the only way to do this is to start small, in our own communities. Trying to come up with an idea of how to do this–volunteer to help facilitate better mental health for young people, ask for a no guns vote in the local village–is that enough? I don’t know. Looking for answers, some idea to get beyond this grief and sheer insanity.
looking for answers here too…….cuz this is a sick sick metastasis and it’s spreading and spreading……
Thank you Barbara for the obits, this is our way of biding loving farewell and should help us focus our grief to action. Tell your legislators on all levels that you will not tolerate the senseless slaughter! The ball is definitely in their court and party affiliation does not matter!
amen to that! and thank you for reading…….
A groundswell of letters/emails to all legislators, national, state, local, no matter which party, that tells them that unless they summon up courage and take the lead to pass reasonable gun control/safety laws – that you will not vote for them and will influence others to do the same.
And a tsunami of identifying and reaching out to those of any age who are ostracized and bullied to make a connection with them, make them feel visible and cared about. And a societal wave of absolutely no tolerance for bullying or harassment in the home, school, workplace – everywhere.
amen and amen………..especially to your second most urgent paragraph…….
Thank you Barbara for this moving and respectful writing. Knowing who the individuals are must help stop this terror.
we can only, only hope…….
Meanwhile 278 miles due directly east of Uvalde, the NRA meets with the governor (yes, he decided not to be there in person but still sent a video of his planned remarks), the lt. governor and a Texas senator in attendance. As a Texan I’m utterly gutted by the loss of so many young lives, I’m also completely hopeless we will ever see change. On the same day this senseless act of violence occurred 380 miles south of me, a neighbor shared the picture of a Nazi flag hanging from a highway overpass in my city. God help us.
oh my God. i just broke out in goosebumps. i’d not heard of the flag……i sent extra tight hugs down texas way. i am so sorry for the closeness of your pain. and i am so glad you found the chair as a place to bring your heart. there is always room here. xoxo
Thank you for writing this, Barbara. To know even a little bit of each victim breaks my heart and makes me think ENOUGH! Something must be done.
amen to that. and thank YOU for reading…..
I looked for you today
we all need someone
when we can not
lift the load
Some words from you
might somehow sort
I am bereft
the dwindling circle
to which I keep
I could not
read your words today
passed the Fifth
‘’The sweetest boy I’ve ever known.”
I could not follow
I cannot even dream
you must have known
to put to pen
that gentle cloud
who took unwanted rest
I stopped at Five
because those whispers
are not whispers here
as my child sleeps
and all tonights
That is the price
of love so deep
that the breaking
binds the other
till their final
May 28, 2022
blessed, blessed richard……the ellipses you leave, as your ache pulses all the way to here, where i find you at the dawn at this old maple table. you breathe in poetics. and how blessed to find your perfect words here. even if we wobble, it is inexpressibly good and right that we have places to turn, and people to turn to, and that somehow even we wobblers will find the strength in each other to keep on trying to keep on, to figure out how in the world our shoulders to this terrible awful immoveable boulder of pain might finally be shoved just enough for light to come through again. till then, in wordlessness, i am so blessed that you circle back to this table. blessings…..b.
Bereft, yes. Thank you for your profound poem, Bless you.
bless him, indeed. you bring treasures to this table, you make it a place of the sacramental. and for that i am eternally eternally grateful. till my last startled blink. xoxox
Incredibly soulful, sad.
Thank you for putting their hearts to their faces, not just numbers.
Thank you for your gift….
thank you for taking the time to pause and to read……
It took a while to decide to write this. After the Sandy Hook massacre, I thought, some brave parent should let a photo of the shredded little body of their child be run in livid color on the front page of every newspaper in the country, or the world, so people could see the obscene carnage done by a semiautomatic weapon. It’s an extreme opinion, but up to that point, you only got mealy-mouthed blather from legislators in thrall to their NRA constituency and with the numbers to continually block any form of gun control. And that’s what we’ve gotten ever since, as mass slaughters of human beings took place in churches, temples, shopping centers, night clubs, music festivals and again and again in schools. I don’t know what else will work to gain the public groundswell to once again ban these weapons and effect rational gun usage laws. Yet making it unsparingly graphic is a tough stance to take, even as we heard that grieving Uvalde parents had to submit DNA samples to help identify their babies’ bodies. Then yesterday and today, in the New York Times and on NPR, that stance was broached. One medical professional all but pleaded for such an image that will finally sink into the public consciousness and spur action. An image like the napalmed little Vietnamese girl. An image like the horrifically tortured body of Emmett Till, so bravely insisted on by his mother. Even the unforgettable photo of Jackie Kennedy, resolutely still wearing the blood-soaked pink suit aboard Air Force One as LBJ was sworn in, to “Let them see what they’ve done.” Let people–families–voters see. In Uvalde, President Biden was met with chants to “Do something!” People across the country have the power themselves to do something, either by insisting that their legislators pass strong gun control laws or by electing new legislators who will. But what is the catalyst, and how horrible does it have to be?
wow. yes, i have heard bits of the discussion, and i shudder to think. i cannot even fathom. how can it be that we are so (what’s the word? unmoved? blind? stubborn? afraid to face the reality) that we are at the brink of asking the beloveds to dare to risk sharing their horror. as one beautiful mother of a sandy hook child wrote yesterday, can we even imagine how quickly such an image — should she dare to release it — would wind up in the wrong hands and be forever distorted. it would be another murder, almost. it’s a question i will ponder, but oh lord……
Yes, there is the barely believable but real potential that some depraved social media troll would demean the dead, multiplying parents’ grief by magnitudes. It happened with Sandy Hook, denying that it happened. I just wonder what it’s going to take to turn around what is so wrong in this country. Good God, this very minute I heard about another mass shooting, this one in Tulsa, on NPR. Maybe if people can remember their outrage when it’s time to vote….
It’s more than frustrating! I’m so disgusted by our nation’s representatives, the men and women who are supposed to be fighting for “the people”. One end of the political pendulum keeps yelling, “This is a disgrace! It’s got to stop! We need gun control!”, while the other end repeatedly cries out that “It’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue!” And the shooting and the killing continues on, and on, and on, and on. It’s important for us to publicly mourn the victims of these violent attacks, so thank you Barbie for doing such a fine job. Here’s a thought: Does the media really need to utter the name of or say anything about the shooter, other than that the assailant has been apprehended or eliminated? I believe that it would be an effective first step for us to refuse to recognize the perpetrators of these violent acts so that they don’t get their 10 minutes of fame for the crimes that they’ve committed. We must refuse to let them go down into what they believe to be “a blaze of glory.” I’ve never seen this many in depth responses from the chairs-you’ve obviously hit a collective nerve in all of us!❤️
P.S. I’ve been having trouble getting my replies to make it to the table. Has anyone else had the same issue and/or can shed some light on how to fix the problem?
oh, gosh, first so sorry about the gremlins who seem to live in wordpress’s comments castle. you are not alone. and i cannot figure out what the problem sometimes is because it’s totally erratic. i am so sorry. i will send wordpress another note! (it doesn’t even recognize me when i am on my laptop, which is where i am way more often than phone.)
as for naming the assailant, that very much has been a matter of discussion and some years ago, was it sandy hook or columbine, the decision was made almost across the board to minimize mention of whoever was the shooter. i think i have barely heard the name in either uvalde or buffalo. and i was actually thinking just yesterday as the spate of mass killings hasn’t slowed much this week that there is an element of copy-cat-ism it seems. it’s horrible. maybe, maybe even an inch can be gained in the wake of these awful awful killings……
As a newly arrived public radio station manager, I’ve never felt more grateful that between Morning Edition and All Things Considered we offer music. Right through here, our spirits need that as much as — possibly more than — updates on the horror.
always good to have a public radio station manager at the table. especially one from your heavenly corner of the world. where music is the soundtrack to life. xoxox