UVALDE, Texas — She died protecting children from bullets. He died grieving his lost love.
Uvalde said goodbye Wednesday to Irma Garcia, who was killed along with fellow teacher Eva Mireles, and 19 children at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde last week when a gunman made his way into their classroom as they were wrapping up the school year.
José Garcia died two days later, after laying flowers at the schoolyard memorial for his wife Irma, Mireles and the children.
Theirs was the third funeral of the victims and the second at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the home parish for several of the families of children who attend Robb.
The high school sweethearts had been together nearly half a century and leave behind two daughters and two sons.
“They come from what I call fine families,” said Jesse Rizo, who went to high school with the Garcias.
Though he hadn’t seen them in a while as they’d all settled into their adult lives, Rizo, 51, of Batesville, recalled hanging out with José and Irma when they were in school. They’d BBQ together and cruise their cars, he said.
Mourners filled the church and an overflow room to say goodbye to the couple, their caskets draped in white flowers, one of which also was accented with red and yellow blooms.
Among the mourners were several employees of H-E-B, where Jose had worked, wearing their laminated name tags clipped to their shirts.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who was an educator in Connecticut when the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting happened in 2012, sat in the front of the church with the Garcia family.
He said in a statement last week that he would “never forget the ripple effect of fear and heartbreak that spread among students and teachers” after Sandy Hook shooting, which claimed the lives of 26 people, including six children.
As the funeral services for those slain at Robb Elementary continue this week and through the middle of the month, some members of the Uvalde community said Wednesday they are leaning on their faith to make sense of the immense loss.
“I’m not angry at God. I’m confused,” Rizo said. “I try to put my faith in God. There’s a time when you are upset and angry and a time when you question things, why they died, why did this happen.”
Frances Blake, 68, of San Antonio, said that instead of being angry, her Catholic faith is showing her “they are with God and are in eternal peace. They are not gone, they’ve just gone before us and are waiting.”
Blake said she attended the Garcias’ funeral to pay respect to Irma Garcia’s father, Manuel Lozano, whom she knows. She said she told the Garcia family her love is with them and she’s thinking about them.
Nelly, 39, who did not want to give her last name, said she is related to Irma Garcia through her own father. She did not know the couple well but had attended the Garcias’ daughter’s quinceañera last summer. She said she’s not a regular churchgoer but believes in God and Jesus and keeps asking God, “Why?”
So far, she has only been able to come up with one answer: “The devil was out that day.”
Later Wednesday, the sad strains of mariachis’ violins, trumpets, guitars and voices filled the Uvalde town square. Among the songs they sang was “Amor Eterno,” or “Eternal Love,” a ballad about loss that’s often played at funerals and memorials.