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‘She was going to be someone.’ Families and friends remember the victims of the Uvalde school massacre as the first funerals are held

By Travis Caldwell, CNN

Ten-year-old Maite Rodriguez wanted to be a marine biologist before she could say the words.

“She loved animals,” cousin Destiny Esquivel told CNN’s Adrienne Broaddus on Monday. “She was determined. She was smart. She was going to be someone.”

But last week, a gunman stormed into her classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, ending Maite’s life and those of 18 other students and two teachers. It was the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade.

Family and friends gathered Monday for a visitation and rosary service for Maite. They remembered her as a charismatic girl with a bright future who was also caring and protective of her younger cousins, Esquivel said, and tried to help others during the bloody massacre.

“Her classmates said she was brave. Grabbing all of the other students, telling them where to hide,” Esquivel said. “She is a hero.”

The devastating loss of 21 lives has deeply wounded a South Texas community that is rallying in support of one another.

Nineteen of those being laid to rest will be buried in custom caskets provided by a Texas company at no cost to the families. The two funeral homes in Uvalde have also vowed to cover all expenses as more services are set for Tuesday and continuing into next week.

A service was also held Monday for 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, whose father learned last week from two of her classmates that Amerie tried to call 911 during the shooting.

“I just want people to know she died trying to save her classmates,” Angel Garcia said Wednesday. “She just wanted to save everyone.”

The visitation room was filled with flowers and stuffed animals as family and friends gathered in remembrance, according to CNN affiliate KTRK.

The Uvalde city council announced it would postpone its meeting Tuesday, where several new members were set to be sworn in.

“Our focus on Tuesday is on our families who lost loved ones,” Mayor Don McLaughlin said Monday in a statement. “We begin burying our children tomorrow, the innocent victims of last week’s murders at Robb Elementary School. The special City Council meeting will not take place as scheduled.”

Calls for help from the classroom

One of the new members of the city council who was to be sworn in Tuesday, school police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, has faced criticism from those who felt law enforcement should have acted more quickly to subdue or eliminate the gunman.

A timeline provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows the gunman was in a classroom with students for more than an hour before he was shot and killed by a Border Patrol tactical response team.

Officers had responded within minutes of the suspect entering the classroom, yet were repelled by the gunman’s fire and then stationed in a hallway awaiting reinforcements for more than an hour.

At a Friday press conference, Texas Department of Public Safety director Col. Steven McCraw confirmed that the Uvalde school district police chief was the official who made the decision not to breach the classrooms — though McCraw did not identify Arredondo by name.

According to the timeline released by Texas DPS, several 911 calls were made by children inside the classroom where the gunman was located, all while police were waiting in the hallway.

One student told CNN that his teacher, who had been struck by gunfire in an adjacent classroom, texted 911 for help.

Video taken from the outside of the school during the incident, obtained by ABC News, includes what appears to be dispatch audio informing officers on scene that a child is calling 911 from a classroom.

“Advise we do have a child on the line,” the dispatcher says. “Child is advising he is in the room full of victims.”

The video indicates police at the scene were informed at least one child remained alive inside the classrooms.

CNN has not been able to independently confirm the video/audio. It is unclear the source of the video as well as at what point in the incident the audio is heard. CNN has reached out to authorities to answer questions about this audio.

Community supported by those near and far

Assistance continues to pour in from neighbors as well as strangers.

Carlos Hernandez, whose restaurant is a mile from Robb Elementary, had given away more than 60 family-sized platters in less than two hours to feed mourning families and neighbors on Thursday.

“It’s a real tough situation, I’m just trying to show the kids that they do have us as their backbone and a support system,” Hernandez told CNN. “We always provide, whether there is an incident or no incident.”

A team of emotional support dogs and their handlers has traveled to Uvalde and will be stationed in the town square this week — eight golden retrievers are wearing blue vests that read “please pet me.”

“A lot of times after something like this people don’t want to talk to a human,” Bonnie Fear, a crisis response coordinator with Lutheran Church Charities, told CNN. “After traumatic events, people don’t want to deal with people, sometimes they just want that thing that they can touch, talk to without being judged, and it’s pretty much that simple.”

“They show unconditional love,” she added, pointing to the dogs.

Elsewhere, the El Progreso Memorial Library has become a place of healing.

On Wednesday, just a day after the shooting, children’s librarian Martha Carreon sat in front of rows of little faces, reading, singing, and giggling with the children, taking them away to a safe place far from the school where many of them became witness to horror.

“We want our building to be a safe space, a refuge that is a quiet, calm and cool haven,” El Progreso Memorial Library director Mendell Morgan told CNN.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Alaa Elassar, Holly Yan, Nick Watt, Joe Sutton, Aya Elamroussi, Theresa Waldrop, Amanda Watts, Virginia Langmaid, Aaron Cooper and Paula Reid contributed to this report.

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