June 30, 2022

Gilbert Limones, one of many first targets of a gunman who killed 21 folks at an elementary faculty, speaks throughout an interview on the church he pastors in Uvalde, Texas, on June 5.Jay Reeves/The Related Press

Gilbert Limones and a co-worker at a funeral residence had been two of the primary targets of the gunman who killed 19 youngsters and two lecturers at a Texas elementary faculty, and Limones has spent most of his days since serving to put together for the younger victims’ burials and consoling shattered households.

On Sunday, Limones swapped his function of funeral attendant for that of a preacher making an attempt to consolation a group and clarify horror that defies straightforward solutions. He’s additionally the pastor at Casa El Shaddai, a small church situated lower than a mile from the place the carnage occurred.

“When tragedies occur, all of the enemy wants is a prepared vessel,” Limones instructed his congregation of about 35, assembly for the primary time in an outdated restaurant transformed right into a worship house.

Whereas Limones didn’t undergo any bodily accidents, he mentioned is exhausted and racked with guilt that he couldn’t do one thing to cease the bloodshed. He has spent hours in tears or prayer, typically each on the identical time.

Nonetheless, Limones tried to seek out the phrases to assuage his a part of a closely Hispanic city of 16,000 that’s unhappy, confused and uncooked with emotion almost two weeks after the slaughter. Devil introduced confusion and damage, he mentioned, however the devoted have a defence.

“Church, you’re armed by this,” he mentioned, holding up a Bible. It was Limones’ first sermon for the reason that killing; he was too busy with work on the funeral residence to serve final week.

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Limones, who preaches in each Spanish and English, has salt-and-pepper hair and a smile that’s large in glad instances. He was animated earlier than the congregation, which meets only one proper flip and one other left away from Robb Elementary Faculty and Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Residence. The 2 sit on reverse sides of Geraldine Avenue, close to the place 18-year-old Salvador Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother within the face at residence earlier than the varsity assault.

On the morning of Could 24, Limones and Cody Briseno, one other funeral attendant at Hillcrest, heard a automobile crash. A gray Ford pickup truck had come to relaxation in a concrete ditch behind the varsity and throughout from the funeral residence, and so they quickly noticed a person dressed all in black beside the passenger door, based on a search warrant.

Authorities mentioned Limones and Briseno walked towards the person however retreated after they realized he was placing {a magazine} right into a rifle. A shooter recognized as Ramos fired a number of instances at them.

Limones mentioned he remembers listening to somebody yell a couple of weapon after which turning, solely to listen to the “pop, pop, pop” of gunfire behind him. The shooter was inside about 150 toes (46 meters) of him however missed in some way, Limones mentioned.

Limones mentioned he bought away as rapidly as he might, cringing at each shot, and calling police as quickly as he might. “I used to be screaming, screaming at 911,” he mentioned.

However Ramos turned the gun on the varsity’s exterior after which entered the constructing by a door that authorities say didn’t lock when a instructor pulled it shut. “I noticed all of it,” mentioned Limones.

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Inside, 19 fourth-graders had been fatally wounded together with two lecturers as police lining the hallways waited greater than an hour to confront and kill Ramos. Whereas nagging questions stay in regards to the police response and precisely what occurred within the faculty, the funerals of the victims started final week, with Hillcrest directing 5 of them.

So, regardless of his brush with the killer, Limones went again to his job on the family-owned funeral residence, which is small and was rapidly overwhelmed. It put out a plea for donations together with tissues and cleansing provides and bought assist from morticians from exterior Uvalde.

Jason Horn, a volunteer funeral director from Longview, Texas, described working in shifts with others at Hillcrest to organize the younger victims for burial.

“We had 5 circumstances that had been extraordinarily tough circumstances, and all 5 households had been capable of see their infants, and so they all determined to go forward with open caskets,” he mentioned in a video in regards to the effort. Merely compiling obituaries took time: Write-ups and images of the lifeless accounted for many of three pages within the Thursday version of the Uvalde Chief-Information.

Probably the most lucky of the victims at Robb Elementary are recovering. Fourth-grade instructor Arnulfo Reyes, who was hospitalized with gunshot wounds, posted a public message on social media final week thanking pals for his or her prayers and love.

“I’ve lengthy journey forward, however I do know I’ll get by it. My ideas and prayers are with the households who proceed to grieve their family members,” mentioned Reyes, who runs a small plant and reward retailer when not instructing.

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Others are dealing with a mixture of feelings. After a college board assembly on Friday evening, Angela Turner, the aunt of capturing sufferer Maranda Mathis, shook with anger as talked in regards to the impact the capturing has had on her household.

“I’ve a fourth-grader that was within the room subsequent door that’s terrified. My niece died. I’ve a 6-year-old that simply instructed me, `I don’t need to go to highschool. Why, to be shot?’ I’ve one going into junior excessive. I’ve a third-grader,” Turner mentioned. “We would like solutions to the place the safety goes to happen. This was all a joke. I’m so upset in our college district.”

One other mom, Daybreak Poitevent, mentioned her 7-year-old son, who was scheduled to switch to Robb Elementary subsequent yr, is afraid of college now and desires to stay at his present campus.

“What he is aware of proper now could be that when he goes to a different faculty he’s going to get shot by a nasty man,” she mentioned.

It’s unclear the place Poitevent’s son may wind up however it received’t be at Robb, which superintendent Hal Harrell has mentioned is not going to reopen.

In his sermon, Limones mentioned he believes the victims are in a greater place, and he recounted the a whole bunch of people that have come to city with donations of meals, water, prayers and extra. Uvalde, he mentioned, “is surrounded by love.”

Whereas townspeople are hurting badly proper now and in search of solutions, he mentioned, they should come collectively. God’s justice will finally prevail.

“You don’t assume that the shooter is having to talk to our father about what he did?” Limones mentioned.

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