Salazar, 18, a senior at Uvalde High School, went to Robb Elementary as a child, walking to school with his cousins. Like seemingly everyone else in the Texas town of about 15,000, he knows somebody directly affected by the shooting.
“This community is extremely tight, but there are many people who choose to mourn quietly, alone, and in a small town like this we’re going to respect that,” Salazar said.
Two friends had younger siblings who died, he said. He delivered this information to a reporter in a matter-of-fact tone, his eyes bloodshot and wide open. Like many others in Uvalde, Salazar appeared dazed by what had just unfolded in his community – the murder of 19 children and two adults by an 18-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 style rifle.
There were few outward signs on Wednesday that one of the deadliest school shootings in the United States had taken place just a day earlier. There were no spontaneous memorials of flowers and teddy bears that sometimes pop up at scenes of mass tragedy.
A Wednesday morning mass at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church was attended by about 50 people, who listened as a priest struggled to tell them why so many of their town’s children had died.
The priest said that he was praying to the Lord to guide him and everyone in Uvalde to some understanding of why such killings took place.
The atmosphere in Uvalde, where large oaks throw shade over sometimes barely paved streets, was eerily subdued. At the grocery store, patrons quietly checked shopping lists and spoke to each other in hushed tones.
This is the type of town where large placards bearing photos of the high school’s valedictorian and other scholars line the lawn in front of city hall. Family names carved out of wood adorn many homes, and crosses indicating a strong Christian faith are planted in yards.
Residents were not the only ones seeking answers to explain the Texas shooting. Scores of law enforcement officers from federal, state and local levels combed the working class neighborhood around the school, knocking on the doors of humble little ranch-style houses, many with chickens pecking freely in the yards.
Men wearing FBI jackets were seen huddling with residents, stepping into the shade of porches to ask questions.
Jorge Roque, who lives close to Robb Elementary, grimaced and choked back tears as he pushed his straw cowboy hat back on his head, trying to make sense of it all.
He said his two granddaughters survived the shooting at the school of second, third and fourth graders who typically range in age from 7 to 10. One of them is in 4th grade, the same year as the children who were killed, he said.
“Half of her class – it’s the one that got shot,” Roque said.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks, editing by Ross Colvin and Grant McCool)