The families of two of the children who died in Tuesday’s mass shooting that killed at least 21 people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, sat down with TODAY to talk about the tragedy and how they want their kids to be remembered.
Steven Garcia’s daughter Ellie was one of the victims. He said the scene developed with him on the premises after his daughter contacted him.
“I was at work. She called me get to the school. I went to the school and tried to get in the building. The police barricaded and pushed us back out, so we just stood on the sidelines and watched this whole thing play out,” he said.
“It’s the longest day ever. It was the longest day ever,” he said.
Garcia was asked what he wants people to remember about his daughter.
“The sweetest girl you’ve ever had the chance to meet. And I had the honor of being her father,” he said through tears.
Ellie had one older sister and three younger ones. Their father said the little girls can’t comprehend what has happened.
“The younger ones, they still don’t understand their sister isn’t coming home,” Garcia said through tears.
Ellie loved basketball, TikTok and the colors pink and purple. She hoped to be a cheerleader and had already begun planning her quinceañera. The family said she had already picked out her dress, even though it was five years away, and her father said they will buy it and hang it in her room. She was also excited to read a verse at church this Sunday.
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“She loved to dance. She loved to have fun. She loved ramen noodles and she just loved life, in general,” Garcia said.
Ellie’s birthday is June 4 and she was going to mark the occasion with a pool party
“We told her we were going to have a party and her face lit up. That was the last time I saw her,” Garcia said.
“She’s never going to be forgotten. She’s a big part of our family, always has been, always will be,” he said.
Ellie also spent a lot of time with her grandparents
“Tell them you love them. You are there for them,” grandfather Rogelio Lugo said. “She wanted to come home, but my daughter said, ‘No you need to stay in school. Try not to miss so much and get smart.’ So she stayed. This is the result that we got.”
Amerie Jo Garza, 10, is another victim whose family is trying to come to grips with her death.
“She was a real good student. She was a very good daughter, friends. Very playful, very silly,” dad Alfred Garza III said.
Amerie Jo enjoyed drawing, performing science experiments and making people laugh and had designs on becoming a YouTube star.
“She was the perfect daughter, yeah. She was a perfect daughter,” Garza said.
Garza went to the school when he heard about the shootings and offered solace to kids who got out of the building while he waited to hear about his own daughter.
“They were just overwhelmed and just crying and so as many as I could, ‘Hey, do you know your mom, dad’s phone number? Let’s call them. Let’s have them know you’re OK,’” he said.
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“That’s what I tried to do to bring some comfort to the kids. Let them know that ‘Hey, mommy and daddy know you’re OK, you’re safe. You’re here. You’re not in any harm.’ And just tried to calm them down as best I could and, obviously, I was getting a little overwhelmed myself, but I was trying to keep my cool for the kids. I was trying not to think about it. I was just expecting for her to walk through that door at any moment.”
Garza waited six hours for Amerie Jo, who was his only child.
“It was a nightmare,” he said.
“I mean, it still is, but the unknown is where it was hard because we didn’t know she was still alive," Garza continued. "We didn’t know she was injured. We didn’t know she was already, you know, she passed already.”
Garza says he hopes to remain strong for her.
“I just want to honor her name. I just want her to be remembered as the type of person that she was,” he said.
“I don’t want to disappoint my daughter. I want to live and make her happy and keep her memory alive,” he added.