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.
Meanwhile, three people remain hospitalized Tuesday at University Hospital San Antonio from injuries in the attack. The gunman’s 66-year-old grandmother, who was shot in the face before the attack on the school, is in good condition; a 9-year-old girl is in good condition; and a 10-year-old girl is in serious condition, the hospital said.
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.
Gustavo García-Siller, Archbishop of San Antonio, said he plans to support the families with love, tenderness and compassion.
“I show through gestures, expressions of care, and in some way to convey that it is a community and many people throughout the world are thinking of them and they are suffering with them,” he told CNN.
“We need to deal with each one of them in a different way because each family is different. Each child is unique. And so we will try to do the best we can, and then to assure them with gestures again that we will be (there) for them in the long run. It’s not just this moment.”
Police chief’s decision called into question
The Uvalde city council was scheduled to swear in its newest members Tuesday, but that meeting has been postponed due to the funerals, the mayor said.
“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.”
One of the newly elected city council members is Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the school police chief whose decision to stand back and wait for reinforcements during the massacre has been sharply criticized.
A timeline provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows the gunman, Salvador Ramos, 18, 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, even as children inside called 911 and begged for police help.
DPS 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. He said the decision to hold back rather than rush into the locked classrooms was “wrong.”
The school district police chief has not responded to a request for a follow-up interview with the Texas Rangers, who are investigating the shooting, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. But despite the lack of a recent response from the chief, the school’s police department and Uvalde police are “still cooperating,” DPS spokesperson Travis Considine told CNN Tuesday.
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.
In addition, a Facebook live video outside Robb Elementary during the shooting includes an apparent radio call of a child saying they had been shot.
The video, taken by a man who spoke to CNN but does not want to be publicly identified, includes a male voice asking, “Let me see. Let me see. Are you injured?” A voice responds, “I got shot!”
Although the voice sounds like that of a child, it’s not clear if the voice was a student, teacher or law enforcement officer.
The man who recorded the video says the audio came from the radio in a Customs and Border Protection vehicle outside the school. It’s unclear why the conversation would have been on that radio, but the man said it was turned off after officers realized he was listening to it.
Off-duty border agent who entered school speaks out
In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning, US Customs and Border Protection agent Jacob Albarado spoke about entering Robb Elementary during the shooting.
Albarado said he had been at the school earlier that morning to attend his second grade daughter’s awards ceremony along with his wife, who is a fourth grade teacher there. He was at a barbershop in town when he received a text message from his wife about the active shooter.
Though off duty, he headed into the school, armed with his barber’s shotgun and some ammunition. “Pretty much all local law enforcement knows me, or I know the majority of them, so I was able to go in and I announced who I was and made my way through,” he said.
“I could just see kids coming out of the windows and kids coming my way. So I was just helping all the kids out. I was trying to contact my wife, see where my wife was at,” Albarado told NBC. “The police were breaking out the windows on the outside and the kids were jumping out through the window.”
At one point, he found himself outside the door to the classrooms where the shooter had barricaded himself but decided not to try to go in.
“I was there at the door fixing to go in, but once again, I didn’t have any of my gear. It wouldn’t have been a smart move for me. All those guys had their gear and stuff,” he said.
Albarado had no criticisms of the police who responded.
“To me, I believe everyone there was doing the best that they could,” he told NBC.
Governor issues disaster declaration for city
On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for the city of Uvalde to “accelerate all available state and local resources” and suspend regulations that would hinder or delay actions needed in the aftermath of the attack, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
The declaration allows state agencies, like the emergency management division, to “continue making readily available all resources to respond to the disaster, including providing a temporary facility to be used as a family resource center,” the release said.
Meanwhile, assistance for the community 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.
CNN’s Alaa Elassar, Holly Yan, Eric Levenson, Nick Watt, Mark Morales, Joe Sutton, Aya Elamroussi, Theresa Waldrop, Amanda Watts, Virginia Langmaid, Aaron Cooper and Paula Reid contributed to this report.