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UVALDE — South Texans packed into the Uvalde County Fairplex on Wednesday and formed a sea of maroon — the town’s school color.
Just southwest of downtown Uvalde, around 1,000 community members filed into the multipurpose stadium. It’s been used for county rodeos, monster truck rallies and gun shows. On Wednesday night, attendees bowed their heads to pray.
“We love our community, we love our colors, maroon,” said Carlos Contreras, a minister at Primera Iglesia Bautista, or First Baptist Church in Spanish. He grew up in Uvalde and attended Robb Elementary School, where a gunman killed 21 people on Tuesday. “We may not understand what happened here yesterday, but we seek the Lord, as best we can.”
In English and Spanish, pastors from different churches in Uvalde asked the community to unite in prayer.
“I want you to know that we love you,” said Tony Gruben, a pastor at Uvalde’s Baptist Temple Church, told those present. “The ministers of this community, people of this community, we love each other.”
[A day after school shooting, Uvalde’s tight-knit community prays, donates blood and grieves]
In crowded bleachers packed with young children and families, community members bowed their heads, outstretched their arms and asked for healing.
Later, after the vigil concluded, residents embraced their friends and neighbors. Some rode home together. High school students piled into cars or the back of pickup trucks. Some families stuck around, grieving together in small groups.
Maricela Sanchez, 33, had dinner with a friend at the food trucks that had set up outside the Fairplex. Their young children played around them as they sat and spoke at a picnic table, processing the trauma to the community.
“We were all strong for El Paso,” said Sanchez, a mother of three children who attended the vigil, referring to the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019. “But now that we’re going through it, we’re really not that strong right now. We’re trying to be. I want to be strong.”
“I really do appreciate people praying,” she said. “We are happy they’re thinking about us because we thought about them.”
At the end of the vigil, before families left, a violinist took the stage. He began to play and Uvalde County residents swayed to “Amazing Grace.” Some mouthed the words: “I once was lost but now am found.”
“We’re gonna get through this, but it’s not going to be easy,” said Contreras, the minister at Primera Iglesia Bautista. “We have all been affected by it. We all know each other. It’s gonna take some time.”