The man who identified victims of the Texas shooting said he found friends’ children and one of his former schoolmates lying among the dead.
Eulalio Diaz Jr, Uvalde’s justice of the peace, had the awful task of identifying the bodies. He acts as coroner because the small town does not have a medical examiner.
He said he tried to prepare himself for the worst possible scene, but what he saw at Robb Elementary School went beyond his imagination.
On the floor, where all 21 victims died after the gunman barricaded himself in, was teacher Irma Garcia – who one survivor said had tried to shield her pupils from the attack.
“She was a year behind me in school, at Uvalde High School. We were together through junior high and high school,” Mr Diaz, 49, said.
In a town of just 15,000 he said “everybody knows everybody” and among the hellish scene were the children of friends.
Mr Diaz said it was an excruciating task as “children don’t carry IDs, they don’t have name badges”.
Determined to spare parents the task of having to identify their children, he used photos and descriptions of what they were wearing that day.
However, some victims were so badly injured by the teenage killer’s semi-automatic weapon that Texas Rangers have had to ask families for DNA samples.
Pictures of all 21 victims of Tuesday’s shooting, including 19 pupils and two teachers, have now emerged as families and friends pay tribute on social media.
“When I got home last night after identifying all the victims, I started to get Facebook messages, and I realised that I knew the parents and even grandparents of many of the kids,” Mr Diaz said.
“My job is to make sure that we release the body of the correct person to their family,” he added.
“My job is to get the bodies of these children back to their families.”
The shooting has reignited a national debate over the country’s gun laws. President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats
have vowed to push for new restrictions, despite resistance from Republicans.
Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the presidency but individual states tend to pass their own regulations.
Also, since 2008, when the US Supreme Court ruled the Second Amendment to the US Constitution – the one that gives Americans the right to “bear arms” – guarantees the right to own a handgun, gun ownership as an entitlement has been cemented into the Constitution.
New details of how Tuesday’s tragedy unfolded have been emerging.
The father of one of the victims has said he wanted to charge into the school because police outside weren’t “doing anything like they are supposed to”.
Officials have admitted that 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos was in the school for up to an hour before a special team entered and forced their way into the locked classroom.
Javier Cazares, whose daughter Jacklyn was killed, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still outside.
He said he suggested charging in with other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They were unprepared.”
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The gunman’s motive is still unclear and he’s said to have had no known criminal or mental health history.
Just before the shooting, he sent private messages to a Facebook contact where he said he would kill his grandmother and “shoot an elementary school”.
Posts also appeared on Instagram and TikTok in the days leading up to the shooting, including a selfie of the gunman in front of a mirror.