The first two of the 19 children killed in one of America’s worst school shootings, are being remembered ahead of their burials.
Visitation gatherings are being held for 10-year-olds Amerie Jo Garza and Maite Rodriguez at the two funeral homes in the small Texas community of Uvalde.
Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, people in the southwestern Texas town will say goodbye to 19 children and their two teachers, in one visitation, funeral and burial after another.
All, were victims of high school dropout Salvador Ramos, who went on a murderous rampage at Robb Elementary School last Tuesday.
Ever since, parents have been demanding answers as to why it took so long for police to storm the building. Some reports said it was up to an hour before a special Border Patrol team killed the gunman. Parents had to be restrained outside, desperately wanting to enter the school themselves to take action.
On Friday, officials admitted it was the “wrong decision” not to go in sooner.
This week alone, funerals are planned for 11 children and teacher Irma Garcia.
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On Monday, some mourners at Amerie’s visitation wore lilac or lavender shades of purple – her favourites – at the request of her father, Angel Garza. Many carried in flowers, including purple ones.
The little girl who loved to draw had just received a mobile phone for her 10th birthday. One of her friends told Mr Garza that Amerie tried to use the phone to call police during the assault on her fourth-grade (9 and 10-year-olds) classroom.
Maite’s family wore green tie-dye shirts with an illustration showing Maite with angel wings.
Funeral directors, embalmers and others from across Texas travelled to Uvalde to help the town cope with so many burials. Some, specialising in facial reconstruction services, also came, given the damage caused by 18-year-old Ramos’s semi-automatic rifle.
Jimmy Lucas, president of the Texas Funeral Directors Association, told NBC News he had brought a hearse and volunteered to work as a driver or do whatever else he could.
Since the shooting, the US Department of Justice has announced a review into the response of local law enforcement.
Officials revealed students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway.
They said the on-site commander believed the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.
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Ramos legally bought two guns not long before the school attack: an AR-style rifle on 17 May and a second rifle on 20 May. He had just turned 18, permitting him to buy the weapons under federal law.
A day after visiting Uvalde and pledging, “we will,” in response to people chanting, “do something”, President Joe Biden on Monday expressed optimism there may be at least some bipartisan support to tighten restrictions on the kind of high-powered weapons used by the gunman.
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“I think things have gotten so bad that everybody’s getting more rational, at least that’s my hope,” the president told reporters before a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The Second Amendment was never absolute,” he went on. “You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed. You couldn’t go out and buy a lot of weapons.”
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According to obituaries posted on the websites of Uvalde’s two funeral homes, Amerie was “sweet, sassy and funny, and loved swimming and drawing” while Maite was an honour student who “loved learning about whales and dolphins and dreamt of becoming a marine biologist”.
Amerie’s funeral in on Tuesday afternoon and Maite’s follows in the evening.
The deadliest school shooting in America was in April 2007 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech. A total of 32 people died.
At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, 26 people lost their lives.