Uvalde victims included 11 current or recent Little League players

For hours that stretched into the evening, Eliahana Cruz Torres would practice high speed, underhand throws with her grandfather in a makeshift bullpen he made from store-bought netting for her in their front yard. 

It was the fourth grader’s first season in Little League and every night before her games, a nervous Eliahana would come looking for assurance from her family that her game would go well, aunt Laura Cabrales said.

“It was her first time this year to get into a sport but within time she loved it,” Cabrales told NBC News on Sunday.

“Every time she would go practice she was always eager because she was the type of kid that wanted to do her best,” she added. “She loved everything about the game, whether she was pitching, catching, or in the outfield, it really didn’t matter to her.”

The 10- year-old got to pitch in one game and was just hours from taking the circle a second time when she, along with 18 other students and two teachers, were killed by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. 

At least six, and as many as 11, victims of the Uvalde school massacre were Little League baseball or softball players, making last week’s shooting the darkest day in league history, officials said Friday.

The grim discovery was made by matching names of victims to Little League’s database of players registered to play in and around Uvalde, President and CEO Stephen Keener told NBC News.

The victims’ names corresponded with 11 in that national registry, with five having signed up between 2019 and 2021, and six registering to play in 2022.

That means six would’ve been playing this current season while the five others could still be active because they didn’t need to register nationally again unless that youngster had moved, according to Keener.

Eliahana Cruz Torres.
Eliahana Cruz Torres.Courtesy Cruz Family

Both Keener and board chairman Hugh E. Tanner said they don’t believe there’s ever been an instance when so many of their young players were killed in one day.

“Hard to recall anything darker,” Keener said. “There really are no words to describe and express how we feel. It’s just horrific.” 

Tanner, a Houston lawyer, said he regularly takes note of tragedies befalling Little League alumni  but he couldn’t remember a time when multiple, current players lost their lives in such a single, terrible act.

“Certainly over the years we’ve had alumni who lost their lives, for instance on 9/11 in one of the Towers,” Tanner said, “but in terms of concentrating so many (in one place and time), I can’t imagine something like this has ever happened before.”

As profiles of the players emerged, Tanner said he was moved by the number of families that issued pictures of their fallen loved ones in baseball or softball uniforms, such as Eliahana.

The victims, 9 or 10, would have likely been playing in Uvalde Little League’s “minor league” division one step below “major division,” best known for the nationally televised Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and  Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, North Carolina.

There’s been Little League in Uvalde since 1959.

“They’ve been a strong part of our program for many, many years,” Keener said. “One of the kids was supposed to have played their last regular season game that evening (of the shooting).”

Officials with Uvalde Little League, including its president, past president and vice president, did not immediately return requests for comment on Sunday. 

Matthew Mulligan and Helen Kwong contributed.