Less than two miles away from Robb Elementary School, where at least 19 children and two adults were killed by a mass shooter on Tuesday, the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center has become the epicenter for families looking for their children.
For more than 12 hours, families gathered in silence outside the center – which was serving as a polling place for the runoff election on Tuesday – waiting for updates.
At least four families told CNN that parents had been asked for DNA swabs to confirm their relationship with their children and instructed to wait for an hour for an answer.
A father, who had just received the news that his child was dead, fought back tears as several of his cousins embraced him.
A few yards away, a grandmother who had driven from San Antonio said she would not stop praying for her 10-year-old granddaughter as they waited for the results of the DNA swabs.
Inside the civic center, city workers were handing out pizza, snacks and water to families. Some parents waited in silence or were sobbing quietly as a group of children sat on the floor playing with teddy bears. Later, a group of local pastors and chaplains arrived to offer their support to the families.
Zinna Aguilera, a 61-year-old bookkeeper who lives in front of the elementary school, said she first learned about the shooting when a friend called her, asking if her granddaughter stayed home on Tuesday.
“It’s sad. You would never have imagined that this was going to happen in Uvalde, Texas. I’ve lived here 32 years, I went to this school, my sisters, my brothers, my grandkids, my daughters, everybody. If you lived in this area, you went to this school, ”says Aguilera.
People in this largely Hispanic neighborhood sat outside their homes after the shooting, some with their families while others gathered with neighbors.
“We’ve been in this neighborhood forever, we have cousins, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews who live in the same streets or within a couple of blocks,” Aguilera said.
Across the street from the school, Adolfo Cruz waited for word about his 10-year-old granddaughter.
The 69-year-old air conditioning contractor answered calls from worried family members and friends while watching local and state law enforcement officers walk inside the school building.
Cruz, a cancer survivor, said he couldn’t lose hope but questioned how no school resource officers were able to stop the shooter from walking into the campus.
“Where were they (officers)?” How did he get across the school fence? ” Cruz said.
Adela Martinez and her husband Paul Martinez, a former city council member and former furniture store owner, spoke about the grief spreading across this town of 16,000 people.
“We are like a big family here. You can expect something like this (shooting) in big cities like New York, but in Uvalde? If this happened here, now I believe it could happen anywhere, “said Adela Martinez.