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A makeshift memorial is bringing mourners together in Uvalde


A makeshift memorial at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has grown since the murder of 19 children and two teachers last week. Mourners had been kept at a distance. They had to hand mementos to a police officer. But this week, they can finally walk up to the growing remembrance site. NPR's Claudia Grisales has more.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: As they walked away from the makeshift memorial at Robb Elementary School, some embrace. Some staggered. Many wiped away tears. Some who came from afar were touched by others they met.

RENE LOPEZ JR: We decided to come. We're five hours away.

GRISALES: That's retired firefighter Rene Lopez Jr., who has seen tragedy in his hometown. He and Adela Lopez drove in from the border town of Mission, Texas, making a 10-hour round-trip drive in a day.

ADELA LOPEZ: So many people have come to...

R LOPEZ: So has Texas.

ADELA LOPEZ: ...Honor our children.

R LOPEZ: As Texans, we're very touched.

GRISALES: Adela Lopez is a high school teacher in Mission.

ADELA LOPEZ: Students I teach are older - ninth through 12th - but they're still children. And this can happen to us. So that's my fear for my - my next - we're already out for summer, though. Everyone's fine, but we don't know next year.

GRISALES: The Lopezes met another couple, Dagmara Stryjak and Tom Ehynleitner, who happened to be traveling in Texas from Austria and had to stop to honor those killed.

DAGMARA STRYJAK: In Europe, it doesn't happen, so always, if you hear about this tragedy, like if there is something like this, it's so heartbreaking.

GRISALES: The line stood 100 deep for hours in the thick Texas heat nearing triple digits. Many had traveled from all over the state. From San Antonio, a member from another Lopez family, mother Andrea, also drove in with her partner, her three young children, a niece, nephew and 21 silver balloons to place at the memorial. Andrea Lopez says she frantically searched different stores for the balloons.

ANDREA LOPEZ: You had to go to, like, three different ones because they were out for the graduation ceremonies. But we finally called one, and they had them made for us when we told them, you know, we're bringing them to Uvalde. They're like, we'll make it happen.

GRISALES: Miriam and Inocencio Jimenez came from Laredo, 2 1/2 hours away, with their two children and their own mementos for the memorial - 21 little bears attached to hearts. Mother Miriam says in Spanish that the news was so sad for her two young sons and family.

MIRIAM JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GRISALES: Mother Cecilia Cadena, surrounded by family, traveled to the memorial from Carrizo Springs. Cadena lived for a short time in Uvalde and remains close to a friend who lost two grandchildren in the shooting - Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez and Jackie Cazares.

CECILIA CADENA: We're here because, you know, we just, you know, so heartbroken.

GRISALES: Cadena is a first-grade teacher who believes the teachers at Robb died protecting the children.

CADENA: We would've done the same thing as these teachers did - you know, step right in front.

GRISALES: The couple from Mission, Texas, Rene and Adela Lopez, say another goal of theirs was to spend money in Uvalde.

R LOPEZ: We can donate a bit of money, but the one thing to help the first responders is through their taxes. You know what? I'm going to eat at the restaurants. I'm going to get a gallon of gas. I'm going to stop at a shop here or there and just support them that way.

GRISALES: The makeshift memorial has grown dramatically with sympathy notes, roses and other flowers. And the lines of mourners are also expected for many days to come.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Uvalde. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.