Less than two miles from Robb Elementary School, where at least 19 children and two adults were killed by a mass shooter on Tuesday, Leon Civic Center’s SSGT Willie has become the epicenter of families searching for their children .
For more than 12 hours, families gathered in silence outside the center — which served as a polling station for the second round of elections on Tuesday — awaiting updates.
At least four families told CNN that parents were asked for DNA swabs to confirm their relationship to their children and were told to wait an hour for a response.
A father, who had just learned that his child had died, held back tears as several of his cousins embraced him.
A few yards away, a grandmother who had driven from San Antonio said she wouldn’t stop praying for her 10-year-old granddaughter while she waited for the results of DNA samples.
Inside the civic center, city workers were handing out pizza, snacks and water to families. Some parents waited in silence or sobbed quietly as a group of children sat on the floor and played with teddy bears. Later, a group of local pastors and chaplains arrived to offer support to the families.
Zinna Aguilera, a 61-year-old accountant who lives opposite the primary school, said she first learned of the shooting when a friend called her, asking if her granddaughter had stayed at home on Tuesday.
“It’s sad. You never imagined this was going to happen in Uvalde, Texas. I lived here 32 years, went to this school, my sisters, my brothers, my grandkids, my girls, everyone. If you lived in that area, you went to that school,” Aguilera says.
Residents of this predominantly Hispanic neighborhood sat outside their homes after the shooting, some with family while others gathered with neighbors.
“We’ve been in this neighborhood forever, we have cousins, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews who live on the same streets or a few blocks away,” Aguilera said.
Opposite the school, Adolfo Cruz was waiting for news of his 10-year-old granddaughter.
The 69-year-old air conditioning contractor fielded calls from concerned family and friends while watching local and state law enforcement officers walk inside the school building.
Cruz, a cancer survivor, said he couldn’t give up hope but wondered how no school resource officer could have stopped the shooter from entering campus.
“Where were they (the officers)? How did he get through the school fence? said Cruz.
Adela Martinez and her husband Paul Martinez, a former city council member and former furniture store owner, spoke of the grief spreading through the town of 16,000.
“We are like a big family here. You can expect something like this (filming) in big cities like New York, but in Uvalde? If it happened here, I now think it could happen anywhere,” Adela Martinez said.