Jose Flores and Andrea Herrera, beloved fourth-grade siblings, took the bus to Robb Elementary School together last Tuesday, as they do most mornings. They said their happy goodbyes. He went to Room 111, while she went to Room 104.
A shooter who had crept into the building through an open door killed Jose dead a few hours later, right after he had been honored at a ceremony for his high grades. His sister managed to flee through a window. “She survived, he didn’t,” Cynthia Herrera said of her daughter and the stepson she had reared since he was three years old.
Jose and Andrea’s family has been left with practically unimaginable responsibilities and little in the days and nights since: helping Andrea heal physically and emotionally; selecting the T-shirt and basketball shorts Jose will wear in his little coffin; and keeping together their young family.
Following a mass shooting, sorrow can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Families in Uvalde, where 19 young kids and two instructors were killed, are lamenting the deaths of Jackie Cazares and Annabelle Rodriguez, cousins who died in the same classroom. They are mourning the loss of Irma Garcia, a fourth-grade teacher, as well as her husband, Joe, who died two days later of a heart attack. They are missing youngsters who aspired to be marine biologists and veterinarians, as well as softball players.
The family of Andrea and Jose – affectionately known as Josecito and Baby Jose by those who knew him — is embroiled in a unique pain, mourning one child while keeping close the one who survived.
Ms. Herrera and Jose Manuel Flores Sr. had repeated the catastrophe in their imaginations several times. What if a fraction of a second had changed the girl’s fate? What if Andrea hadn’t gotten through the window fast enough? What if they had planned two funerals rather than one?
“I can’t stand the thought of a world where both of them might have perished,” Ms. Herrera added. “Losing Josecito is heartbreaking enough. We’ll never be the same again.”
Mr. Flores and Ms. Herrera met while they were both young: Mr. Flores, a 20-year-old single father with a son, and Ms. Herrera, a 23-year-old single mother with a daughter. A meeting at Ms. Herrera’s petrol station led to dates. Mr. Flores got a tattoo of her that covers most of his left arm because the connection was so intense.
“He fell in love at first sight,” Ms. Herrera quipped this week, a rare chuckle in recent days.
Jayden Alexander Flores, aged 5, and Jayce Axel Flores, 7 months, are their two kids. Josecito, the eldest child in the mixed family, was ten years old, followed by Andrea, who was nine.
Josecito has struggled in school for some time. He had been held back a year because he was disinterested in reading and arithmetic, and his younger sister had caught up to him in fourth grade. “Friends, lunch, and recess were his key points of school,” Ms. Herrera remarked with a sad grin.
His parents encouraged him to concentrate, and the message appeared to have taken root in recent months. They advised him that if he wanted to be a police officer, he was required to dramatically improve his grades. They told him he needed to hurry because he was going to be in the same grade again, Ms. Herrera recalled.
He continued to read. He mastered multiplication, and Ms. Herrera acknowledged him as one of the children who made the honor roll during a ceremony on Tuesday.
She explained, one could tell by his smile. He was overjoyed.
The shooter initially went after Josecito’s room, then another. His shots also found their way to Andrea’s classroom, where she informed her grandparents she witnessed a teacher being shot minutes before fleeing via a window. Andrea, dressed in a pink T-shirt and black shorts, was photographed by a local newspaper photographer racing across the school’s lawn, her face frozen in panic.
The news was perplexing and unsettling for Mr. Flores and Ms. Herrera.
“They instructed us to pick up your children at the municipal center,” Mr. Flores remembered.
He took a step back, filled with apprehension. Andrea had made it out alive. Mr. Flores convinced himself that Josecito would definitely come out looking for them as well. But hours passed and his heart sunk. “I was just waiting and waiting,” he explained. “He didn’t turn up.”
As thankful parents retrieved their kids and returned home, only Mr. Flores and a few others remained.
“At the end, they said, ‘Well, that’s it.'” “All of the buses have arrived,” he recalled.
“You might want to go check at the hospital, as his instructor got shot,” one of the other parents leaned on him.
He raced to the hospital and rushed into the lobby. The inconceivable news was delivered by a doctor. Josecito had been shot three times, once in the head and once in the back of the head. Officials recognized him instantly due to his attire — a blue T-shirt, gray basketball shorts, and gray Jordan sneakers — matched the outfit he wore in the awards photo he took just hours before.
The doctor offered to accompany Mr. Flores to see the kid, but a police officer interrupted. He, too, was a dad. He informed Mr. Flores, he should not see his kid in this condition. So Mr. Flores turned around.
The officer’s goodwill, however, hasn’t stopped the family from picturing the event. “May you fathom what a bullet that size can do to such delicate skin and bones?” In Spanish, the boy’s grandfather, Martin Herrera, stated.
Mr. Flores, an equipment operator at a nearby ranch, has built a monument to the kid who was constantly at his side, describing it as a “chicle” — a bit of gum tied to the sole of a shoe — he said with a grin.
Mr. Flores has gathered images outside the family’s humble one-story house, including ones in which Josecito poses with his biological mother, Alyssa Mae Rodriguez, whom he hardly saw. There are lights honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe among the foods Josecito enjoyed, Takis chips and Cheetos Flamin’ Hot. His blue Uvalde Little League No. 6 jersey, as well as a huge photo of his first honor roll certificate, are on display.
Mr. Flores explained, he never got to take it home. Perhaps it’s still there.
The family picked a casket shaped like a movie poster. Josecito with angel wings, smiling. A supercar cruising across space. A flame-engulfed baseball flying over the skies. He’ll be laid to rest with his baseball bat and glove. Visitors are urged to wear his favorite color, dark blue, to his visitation on Tuesday and white to his funeral on Wednesday.
Inside, Josecito’s room is just how he left it. His dad’s breath is taken away by the sight. The twin bed on the right, near to a window overlooking the backyard, is draped in a basketball-themed bedsheet. There’s one with a poop emoji on it, and another with an angry green robot. Mr. Flores described him as having “crazy humor.”
Jayden, his younger brother, generally slept on the bed next to his. However, the youngster acquired a fever following Josecito’s death and is currently living with other relatives since he is too traumatized to sleep at home. Mr. Flores stated that he is willing to do the same. He said that this residence had too many sad memories. He explained it’s going to be difficult to be here and not see him.
Andrea has also found it difficult to be at home. She has been reclusive and terrified in the days following the incident. “That first night, she told us everything,” her grandma, Beatriz Herrera, recalled. “But she’s been silent and alone since then.” She is still afraid that the nasty man will return and find her.”
She also misses her elder brother terribly. They chatted about school while playing together. She was taller than he was. They were protective of one other since they were older than the younger two.
Mr. Herrera explained, every time they left the house, they urged him to look after his little sister. And they would tell her that she needed to look after her sibling as well.