On a dirt floor normally reserved for bull riding and barrel racing, a community in mourning came together Wednesday night to honor the 19 children and two adults shot and killed inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
As the sun set on the Uvalde County Fairplex, the friends, families, neighbors, classmates and community leaders of Uvalde, Texas, gathered for a candlelight vigil in honor of the 21 lives lost Tuesday in the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history.
More a Sunday morning worship service than a vigil, religious leaders from various churches led the community in hymns and prayer — in both English and Spanish — before reading passages from the Bible and urging those in the crowd to lean on their faith.
"The Lord Almighty is with us," a religious leader said. "The Lord Almighty is with you, and your sorrow and your questions and your pain and your agony. God is there and God sees."
Many in attendance were seen wearing Uvalde Coyotes colors: crimson and white.
A number of students of all ages were also in attendance — classmates of those who were killed; friends supporting friends who lost family members; young high school-age couples holding hands and best friends resting their heads on a fellow teen's shoulder.
“I want you to know that we love you,” one faith leader said after the group was led in a song. “The ministers of this community — the people of this community — we love each other.”
"It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t even really hit you," Taylor, 32, a freelance writer who attended the vigil told TODAY Parents after it ended. (He asked that his full name be withheld.) "I hate to say the feeling 'helpless,' but it just feels like we're here to bear witness to a lot of terrible things."
He was working with volunteers at the Mexico-Texas border when the shooting at Robb Elementary School occurred. Taylor, along with a group of volunteers, drove straight to the school and watched as the shooting, and the police response, unfolded.
"We saw kids getting evacuated and helicopters — everything you'd think you'd see," he added.
Taylor says the scene Tuesday felt somber and quiet.
"The air had a very heavy, dark feeling," he explained. He says he wanted to attend the vigil because Uvalde is "one of the communities I care about."
"It doesn't matter what it is, we're here for the community," he added. "For Texas."
In the parking lot Wednesday night, "Pray for Uvalde" and "Uvalde Strong" messages could be seen scribbled on vehicle windows and on handheld signs.
"We are devastated," the same faith leader said at the beginning of the vigil. "But you know what I also know and I also believe? God's heart is broken. Because God sees us here. I am so grateful, I am so thankful, that you are here."
As the vigil ended and attendees spilled into the parking lot, a group of young students were seen hugging a police officer.
"Thank you for coming, girls," the officer said as the teens, their cheeks still stained with tears, walked away hand-in-hand.
Parents with children far too young to comprehend the egregious loss of life their community has sustained were also in attendance.
Those children — many of whom were toddlers — could be seen playing amongst themselves during the vigil; making noises on the bleacher seats while fidgeting; loudly asking (read: demanding) for a snack; fighting with an annoying sibling or uncomfortably crawling across a parent's lap.
Those moments of reprieve — of the joy borne out of the innate naïveté of a child — seemed welcomed, not just by their parents but by all of those around them.