UVALDE, Texas — Inseparable siblings Jose Flores and Andrea Herrera, both in fourth grade, rode the bus together to Robb Elementary School last Tuesday, as they have done most mornings. They said their happy farewells. He went to room 111, she to room 104.
Hours later – just after José was celebrated in a ceremony for his good grades – the boy was shot dead by a gunman who had slipped into the building through an open door. His sister escaped through a window.
“She survived, he didn’t,” Cynthia Herrera said, referring to her daughter and the stepson she had raised since he was 3.
In the agonizing days and nights that followed, Jose and Andrea’s family found themselves with almost unbearable tasks large and small: helping Andrea recover, physically and emotionally; choose the t-shirt and basketball shorts that José will wear in his little coffin; keep their young family together.
Grief can take many forms after a mass shooting. In Uvalde, where 19 young children and two teachers were shot, families mourn Jackie Cazares and Annabelle Rodriguez, cousins killed in the same class. They mourn the loss of Irma Garcia, a fourth-grade teacher, as well as her husband, Joe, who died of a heart attack two days after her death. They miss children who dream of becoming marine biologists and veterinarians, girls who hoped to become softball stars.
The family of Andrea and Jose – who were called Josecito and Baby Jose by those who loved him – are plunged into special anguish, mourning a child and hugging the one who escaped.
Herrera and Jose Manuel Flores Sr. replayed the tragedy over and over again in their minds. What if a single second had changed the fate of the girl? What if Andrea hadn’t passed through that window fast enough? What if instead of planning one funeral, they plan two?
“I can’t even imagine a world in which both could have died,” Herrera said. “Losing Josecito is bad enough. We will never be the same again.
Flores and Herrera met when they were young themselves: a 20-year-old single father with a son, a 23-year-old single mother with a daughter. A meeting at the gas station where Herrera worked turned into a date. The chemistry was so strong that Flores got a tattoo of her which covers most of his left arm.
“He was love at first sight,” Herrera joked last week, a rare moment of levity in recent days.
They have two sons together: Jayden Alexander Flores, now 5, and Jayce Axel Flores, 7 months. Josecito, 10, was the eldest in the blended family, followed by Andrea, who is 9.
Josecito had struggled in school, at least for a while. He was held back for a year, indifferent to reading and math, and his younger sister had caught up with him in the fourth grade. “His main focus in school was friends, lunch, and playtime,” Herrera said with a bittersweet smile.
His parents have urged him to focus, and in recent months the message has seemed to be taking hold. If he wanted to become a police officer as he hoped, they told him, he had to improve his grades considerably. “We told him, you better hurry because you’re going to stay in the same class again,” Herrera said.
He read more. He had mastered multiplication and on Tuesday was among the students recognized for making the honor roll at a ceremony Herrera attended.
“It showed in his smile,” she said. “He was happy.”
The shooter attacked Josecito’s room first, then a neighboring room. Her bullets also traveled near Andrea’s classroom, where she told her grandparents she saw a teacher being shot moments before fleeing, climbing out a window. A local newspaper photographer captured a haunting image of Andrea, dressed in a pink t-shirt and black shorts, running across the school lawn, her face frozen in horror.
When Flores and Herrera heard the news, it was disconcerting and terrifying.
“They told us, pick up your kids from the civic center, so I rushed there,” Flores recalled.
He backed away, gnawed by anxiety. Andrea had come out alive. Josecito would surely have come running out, looking for us too, Flores thought. But the hours passed and his heart sank. “I was waiting and waiting,” he said. “He didn’t show up.
Eventually, as the relieved parents collected their children and drove home, only Flores and a few others remained.
“At the end, they were like, ‘Well, that’s it. All the buses have arrived,'” he recalled.
One of the other parents leaned over him and whispered, “Maybe you should go check up at the hospital, because his teacher got shot,” he said.
He drove to the hospital and sprinted down the hall. A doctor announced the unfathomable news. Josecito had been shot three times, one of which was to the side of the head. Officials were able to quickly identify him because his clothes — a blue t-shirt, gray basketball shorts and gray Jordan sneakers — matched the outfit he wore in the award photo he took a few hours earlier. early.