Esmeralda Bravo, center, holds a picture of her granddaughter Nevaeh Bravo, who was killed at  Robb Elementary School along with 18 other children and two teachers, during a vigil at Uvalde County Fairplex.

Children are Uvalde's pride and joy. After school shooting, the town is reeling from mass tragedy

Updated 10:34 AM ET, Sat May 28, 2022

Uvalde, Texas (CNN)Crystal Sanchez recalls the smiles of hundreds of children when they got free manicures and had their hair spray-painted during the "Día de los Niños" celebration at the Uvalde County Fairplex. Parents and residents across this small South Texas town spent hours solely honoring and celebrating their youngest.

Nearly a month later, the memories of that April 29 event feel distant for Sanchez, a 42-year-old mother of two who works at a local beauty school.
Grief and frustration have set in, and prayers have replaced the laughter that once echoed throughout the venue that sits on the edge of a town 80 miles west of San Antonio. Since Tuesday, residents have gathered daily to mourn after sorrow burst into what feels like nearly every household in this town of about 16,000 people.
Mass tragedy arrived in Uvalde this week when 19 children and two of their teachers were slaughtered by a gunman at Robb Elementary School, just two days before summer break. Children have always been at the center of the town's pride and joy, dozens of residents say. And now, the losses of some of Uvalde's brightest lights have become a source of heartbreak.
In downtown Uvalde, two of the longest federal highways in America -- US Highway 83 and US 90 -- intersect just like the feelings of many families this week. In one corner, portraits of high school seniors line the lawn outside City Hall. At another corner, flowers were placed next to white crosses bearing the names of each of Tuesday's 21 victims along the town square's fountain.
The names of the 19 children and two teachers who were killed are written on crosses in front of the school.
"This was something that should have never happened," Sanchez said. "Our prayers are with everyone because everywhere I go, everyone was affected whether you had a child in there or not. If you didn't there's guilt because you get to go home and feel happy with your family when you know that they're never going to be the same."