Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia would have turned 10 over the weekend, but instead of getting ready to sing her “Happy Birthday,” her family was preparing for her funeral.
Eliahna was among the 19 students and two teachers who were killed by a gunman in their adjoining elementary school classrooms on May 24. The tragedy has devastated the town of Uvalde, Texas, where families continue this week to bury their children who died in the shooting.
Four people still remain hospitalized, including a 10-year-old girl in serious condition and the 66-year-old grandmother of the gunman.
On Sunday, Eliahna’s family held a visitation and on Monday morning will gather again at a funeral mass to honor the little girl who loved cheerleading and basketball and dreamed of becoming a teacher.
Local residents have quickly formed a bedrock of support for the survivors and victims’ grieving families, including the Garcia family. Some businesses have begun having their employees wear the color purple and pass out purple goody bags to show support for those grieving Eliahna, who loved the color.
But as the community rallies around the grieving, frustrations remain high over officials’ lack of transparency about the horrific day. Officials have repeatedly changed the narrative of what happened in the attack, including key details on how the gunman entered the school, why police delayed confronting the gunman and how long it took for authorities to kill him.
Former Uvalde city councilman Rogelio Muñoz told CNN Sunday he believes mistakes were made during the police response, but multiple people should share the responsibility for law enforcement decisions made that day.
“The truth is often gray. It’s not black and white. You have the state authorities who responded who are throwing the local police under the bus. … The officers who responded were good honorable people who, in retrospect, made a mistake in judgment during a heightened situation,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz, who has no direct knowledge of what happened during the shooting, said he believes Uvalde School District Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo is one of those who share the responsibility for the law enforcement response. Arredondo is the one who made the decision not to immediately enter the classroom where the shooter was holed up with children and teachers, the Texas Department of Public Safety has said.
“Arredondo made mistakes that day, but he’s not the only one,” Muñoz told CNN, pointing out DPS officials also responded to the scene.
Gov. directs active shooter training for school districts
In a letter Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT) at Texas State University to deploy its active shooter training program to all Texas school districts, prioritizing school-based law enforcement.
The letter to ALERRT Executive Director Pete Blair said the training must begin before the new school year starts.
“We sadly recognize we cannot do anything to bring back the precious lives that were taken; however, we must do everything in our power to prevent the same tragic ending from happening again,” he wrote.
Abbott also requested ALERRT provide a debrief of the Uvalde school shooting to law enforcement personnel, school administrators and other decision makers in charge of public school safety.
“This discussion will serve as a solemn reminder of the necessity for constant vigilance in every school hallway and classroom and the need for the active shooter training you provide,” Abbott said in the letter.
According to ALERRT’s website, more than 130,000 law enforcement and fire officials nationwide have been trained in force-on-force scenario-based training and more than 200,000 civilians have been trained in the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) Avoid-Deny-Defend awareness program.
‘I don’t want to go to school. Why? To be shot?’
The safety and recovery of surviving children in Uvalde has become an urgent priority for parents and local officials.
Students will not return to the Robb Elementary campus next school year and arrangements are being made to accommodate them at other schools, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell announced last week.
The plan was reiterated at a school board meeting Friday night, but parents were left with no clear answers on the board’s plans to address the aftermath of the shooting.
Angela Turner, a mother of five children in Uvalde who lost her niece in the school shooting, was outraged at the lack of a clear outcome.
“We want answers to where the security is going to take place. This was all a joke,” she said after the meeting. “I’m so disappointed in our school district.”
Turner will not allow her children to return to school until they feel safe, she said, adding her 6-year-old child told her, “I don’t want to go to school. Why? To be shot?”
Shooter’s estate sued for more than $1 million
The families of four survivors are suing the estate of the Uvalde shooter for damages, alleging in part, “he intentionally injured these young children, stole their innocence, and forever changed their lives.”
One student is listed in the suit as having “severe and permanent” bodily injuries to his leg; one to the shoulder, arm and back; another to the shoulder, back and leg; and the fourth to her face, nose and cheek.
After the listing of each student’s wounds, the lawsuit reads, “The damages sought are in excess of one million dollars.”
For each of the children listed, the lawsuit says injuries “have had a serious effect” on the “health and well-being” of the students that “in reasonable probability” will continue to affect them either physically or mentally for the rest of their lives.
Attorneys for the families write that, to their knowledge, “an estate has not yet been established,” so instead they will “move to appoint his mother Adriana Martinez as the administrator and will file this suit upon her in that capacity.” The suit will be amended if someone else is chosen, the document says.
CNN has attempted to reach Adriana Martinez regarding the lawsuit but has not gotten a response.
Victims and families press for accountability from gun manufacturer
The family of a student killed in the massacre and a teacher who survived the horrors of that day are both demanding information from the manufacturer that made the firearm used by the gunman, according to court filings obtained by CNN.
The mother and father of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, who was killed in the shooting, have written separate letters to Daniel Defense, the company that manufactures the AR-15-style rifle used in the attack.
Attorneys for Amerie’s mother, Kimberly Garcia, requested that Daniel Defense “preserve all potentially relevant information” related to the shooting, including “all physical, electronic, and documentary evidence potentially relevant to” the company’s marketing of AR-15-style rifles, according to a letter obtained by CNN.
Alfred Garza, Amerie’s father, also demanded information about the manufacturer’s marketing strategies, particularly to children and teens, as well as any communications the company had with the shooter,
“My purpose for being now is to honor Amerie Jo’s memory,” Garza said in a news release about the letter. “She would want to me to do everything I can so this will never happen again to any other child. I have to fight her fight.”
Emilia Marin, a teacher at Robb Elementary, filed a petition Thursday to depose Daniel Defense, a court filing shows. The pre-suit petition does not accuse the manufacturer of wrongdoing but is investigating whether Marin has any basis to file a claim against the company.
“We need to hold these people accountable,” Marin’s attorney, Don Flanary, told CNN, adding her legal team has no plans to sue the school, police or school district.
Through their requested deposition, Marin’s attorneys are looking for facts surrounding the shooting, the possession and sale of the weapon used by the gunman, the death and injury caused by the gunman’s use of a Daniel Defense AR-15-style rifle. They are also seeking information about “Daniel Defense’s pattern of marketing of its products in a manner associating firearms, and minors, by positing on social media,” according to the petition.
Daniel Defense has not replied to multiple requests by CNN for comment.
CNN’s Rosa Flores, Jennifer Henderson, Dave Alsup, Camila Bernal, Meridith Edwards, Nick Valencia, Holly Yan, Ed Lavandera, Aya Elamroussi, Paradise Afshar and Omar Jimenez contributed to this report.