UVALDE, Texas — As the last grieving families seeking information about their children filed out of Uvalde’s civic center late on Tuesday, the dry heat that had gripped the small town gave way to a rare thunderstorm.
To Steven Garcia, who had just learned about the death of his 9-year-old daughter Ellie, the drops of heavy rain were a sign from God.
“The rain shows me you made it. … Home!!! I love you forever baby!!!” Garcia wrote in a post-midnight Facebook post that drew thousands of reactions.
For two days, politicians, reporters and law enforcement officials converged on Uvalde. They snatched up every vacant hotel room, emptied the shelves of the local H-E-B supermarket and explored the complexities of the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history.
To conservatives, the massacre of 19 fourth-graders and their two teachers highlighted the need for tighter school security, and greater mental health services. Liberals wondered whether the country had finally had enough of letting teenagers get their hands on high-powered assault rifles. And for other commentators, it was just another example of the failure of law enforcement.
Residents of this predominantly Latino and working-class town of just over 15,000 people were not averse to any of the theories about what happened — or what needed to be done to prevent such bloodshed from happening again.
But in a tight-knit community where everyone either lost a loved one, or knew someone who did, the pain — for many at least — was too overwhelming to ponder anything else.
“It’s just something that you can’t believe, you can’t understand what’s going on,” said Millie Garcia, who helps run the school district’s warehouse. “Why this little town is what I ask?”
Garcia and Javier Perez, who delivers food and supplies to the school district’s cafeterias, were staring in disbelief at Robb Elementary School from behind the police perimeter on Tuesday.
Both of them attended the school as children. Garcia never left town and Perez spent a chunk of his adulthood in Colorado before “falling in love” again with the community that had raised him.
On a normal week, Perez would have been delivering food to Robb Elementary when the shooting was happening. But with the school year ending on Thursday, the building needed less food than normal.
“What’s happening to a generation — the younger generation?” Perez asked. “It’s just crazy.”
Rather than settle on a clear answer, Perez and other Uvalde residents have found comfort in one another — and their faith. On Facebook, many mourners have replaced their profile photos with a graphic of the state of Texas and the words “Prayers for Uvalde,” with a small image of a lobo, or coyote, the town high school’s mascot. Other Uvaldeans have adopted the slogan, “We are Uvalde strong.”
On Wednesday night, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) joined faith leaders and some 1,000 grieving residents for a prayer vigil at the fairgrounds on the edge of town.
The Rev. Tony Gruben of the Temple Baptist Church read from Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.”
Gruben told HuffPost that he chose that passage because it speaks to the humility and vulnerability that the entire town is feeling.
“God is still there. He’s not left us. He’s the one in whom we can find our strength and find refuge in — because this is too difficult for us,” Gruben said. “I’m too wicked. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to say it or how to do it.”
Sam Garza, a Methodist youth pastor talking to Gruben after the vigil, noted that King David, the biblical figure believed to have authored the biblical Psalms, experienced the tragic deaths of two sons.
“He wrote those words, because he found them in his heart,” said Garza, who had spent the day making house calls to grieving families. “And I know it’s a lot of hearts that need to find the healing that God can offer.”
D.J. Larson, a born-again FedEx driver with three young daughters, was already finding peace in that message. Larson, a friend of Steven Garcia and other parents who lost children, said he appreciated the chance to pray with his community at the fairgrounds.
“There’s a lot of chaos out there — a lot of killings and whatnot,” Garcia said. “All these people in Uvalde, they’re coming together.”
Larson said he wants to see tighter security at public schools, but didn’t have a strong opinion about gun regulations.
“I haven’t really been focused on the news right now,” Larson said. “Usually I do, but I haven’t been, so I can’t really answer to the best of my ability.”
Referring to politicians, he added: “God gives them wisdom. Whatever they do with that, that’s on them.”