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Uvalde residents comfort each other in faith after Texas school shooting

UVALDE, Texas — As the last grieving families seeking information about their children emerged from the Uvalde Civic Center late Tuesday, the dry heat that had gripped the small town gave way to a rare thunderstorm .

For Steven Garcia, who had just learned of the death of his 9-year-old daughter Ellie, the heavy raindrops were a sign from God.

“The rain shows me that you have succeeded. … Residence!!! I love you forever baby!!!” Garcia wrote in a Facebook post after midnight which generated thousands of reactions.

For two days, politicians, journalists and law enforcement officials converged on Uvalde. They seized every vacant hotel room, emptied the shelves of the local HEB supermarket and explored the complexities of the second deadliest school shooting in US history.

For the conservatives, the massacre of 19 fourth-grade students and their two teachers highlighted the need for stricter school security and better mental health services. Liberals wondered if the country was finally tired of letting teenagers get their hands on high-powered assault rifles. And for other commentators, this was just another example of law enforcement failing.

Residents of this predominantly Latino, working-class town of just over 15,000 were not opposed to any of the theories about what had happened – or what had to be done to prevent such a bath of blood does not happen again.

But in a tight-knit community where everyone has lost a loved one or knew someone who has, the pain – for many at least – was too overwhelming to think about.

“It’s just something you can’t believe, you can’t figure out what’s going on,” said Millie Garcia, who helps run the school district’s warehouse. “Why is this small town what I ask?”

Raven Vazquez holds a sign in the town square in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday.

Garcia and Javier Perez, who deliver food and supplies to school district cafeterias, watched in disbelief at Robb Elementary School from behind the police perimeter on Tuesday.

Both attended school when they were children. Garcia never left town, and Perez spent part of his adulthood in Colorado before “falling in love again” with the community that raised him.

In a normal week, Perez would have delivered food to Robb Elementary at the time of the shooting. But with the school year ending on Thursday, the building needed less food than normal.

“What happens to a generation – the younger generation?” Perez asked. “It’s just crazy.”

Rather than settle for a straight answer, Perez and other Uvalde residents found comfort in each other — and in their faith. On Facebook, many mourners replaced their profile pictures 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’s high school mascot. Other residents of Uvalde adopted the slogan “We are strong from Uvalde”.

On Wednesday evening, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (right) joined religious leaders and some 1,000 grieving residents for a prayer vigil at the fairgrounds on the outskirts of town.

Reverend Tony Gruben of Temple Baptist Church read Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.

Gruben told HuffPost he chose this passage because it speaks to the humility and vulnerability that the whole city feels.

“God is always there. He has not left us. It is in him that we can draw our strength and take refuge – because it is too difficult for us,” Gruben said. “I’m too mean. I do not know what to say. I do not know what to do. I don’t know how to say it or how to do it.

Uvalde residents comfort each other in faith after Texas school shooting
Reverend Daniel Myers kneels before crosses bearing the names of Tuesday’s shooting victims while praying for them at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Sam Garza, a young Methodist pastor speaking in Gruben after the vigil, noted that King David, the biblical figure who is believed to be the author of 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 home visits to grieving families. “And I know that many hearts need to find the healing that God can provide.”

DJ Larson, a born-again FedEx driver with three young daughters, was already finding peace in that post. Larson, a friend of Steven Garcia and other parents who have lost children, said he appreciated the opportunity to pray with his community at the fairgrounds.

“There’s a lot of chaos there – a lot of murder and so on,” Garcia said. “All these people in Uvalde, they’re coming together.”

Larson said he wants to see tighter security in public schools, but doesn’t have a strong opinion on gun regulations.

“I haven’t really been focused on the news right now,” Larson said. “Usually I do, but I haven’t been there 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 it is on them.

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