Día de los Muertos takes on new meaning in Uvalde : The Picture Show Día de los Muertos, honors loved ones who have passed, the holiday resonated in Uvalde, Texas with a deeper degree of tragedy this year after the community lost 19 children and two teachers last May.

Día de los Muertos takes on new meaning in Uvalde

Jermya López, 8, Xavier López's brother, and his niece Katalina Mata, 1, play on top of Annabelle Rodríguez's grave on Day of the Dead. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Jermya López, 8, Xavier López's brother, and his niece Katalina Mata, 1, play on top of Annabelle Rodríguez's grave on Day of the Dead.

Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR

Día de los Muertos, the holiday that honors loved ones who have passed, resonated in Uvalde, Texas with a deeper degree of tragedy this year after the community lost 19 children and two teachers in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School last May.

Families and friends in this predominantly Latino community tried their best to put their pain aside to honor tradition and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have gone – and the lives that were taken by the gunman.

Dozens gathered Wednesday afternoon at the Hillcrest Cemetery, where many of the victims are buried, for a quiet annual mass in English and Spanish.

A mural painted by artists Lizbeth Ortiz and Leticia Santos depicting an altar for the children and teachers who were killed during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Kimberly García, Amerie Jo Garza's mother, her step-father, Angel Garza, and others march around Hillcrest Memorial cemetery and pass by the gravesites on Day of the Dead. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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A woman prays during an All Souls Day mass at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Priest Eddy Morales blesses people with holy water during the All Souls Day mass at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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And many families set up altars covered in traditional marigolds and their children's favorite things beside their graves.

"The myth, the legend is today they are here with us," said Javier Cazares, the father of 9-year-old Jacklyn Cazares, who was killed in the shooting.

Cazares choked up as he talked about the holiday and his daughter's colorful "ofrenda" full of stuffed animals, photos with family members and some of her favorite snacks to share.

"They're here, dancing around, having a good time with their families," he said.

Amber Alaniz, 21, left, Juanita Cázares, center, and Polly Alaniz, cousins and aunt of Jackie Cázares, help decorate her grave on Day of the Dead on Nov. 2, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Jacklyn "Jackie" Jaylen Cázares' altar on Nov. 2, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. The altar includes family photos of other deceased relatives. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Xavier Lopez's altar included photos of his girlfriend, Anabelle Rodriguez, and him. They were buried together. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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From left to right: Makenna Lee Elrod's stepfather, Christopher Seiler; her mother, April Elrod; Makenna's brother, Holden Elrod, 8, help decorate Makenna's altar. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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April Elrod lost her 10-year-old daughter Makenna in the shooting and made sure her daughter's altar included her beloved Takis chips and Dum-Dum lollipops for people to try.

"It's the first time we've set one up. We're Baptists," she said. "It's not a holiday that we normally celebrate but we felt this year that we wanted to celebrate with the other families."

Butterflies adorned framed photos of Makenna playing softball and riding a horse.

Makenna Lee Elrod's photo of her in a horse at her altar. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Julian Moreno, 81, a pastor at the Primera Iglesia Bautista for 50 years, and Alexandria "Lexi" Aniyah Rubio's great-grandfather. He and Lexi attended the same church and he says it's difficult for him to go, since she died. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Alexandria "Lexie" Aniyah Rubio's favorite foods and things at her altar on Day of the Dead. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Faith Mata, left, remembers her sister Tess M. Mata along with Lexie's family, in gray t-shirts, and her parents Veronica and Jerry Mata. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Ana Rodríguez, Maite Rodríguez's mother, places her daughter's beanie on top of the urn that contains her ashes. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Maite Y. Rodríguez's shoes displayed on her altar at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Ana Rodriguez, mother of 10-year-old Maite Rodríguez, set her daughter's ashes atop her altar next to a pair of Maite's signature green Converse sneakers.

Hundreds of Uvalde residents had trickled into the cemetery by mid-afternoon.

As darkness fell, mariachis began to play and belt out ballads into the night, as most people were in no hurry to leave the cemetery and the souls they came to celebrate.

Eva Mireles' grave is seen decorated on Day of the Dead at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Adalynn C. Ruíz, 23, Eva Mireles' daughter, serves her mother's favorite wine in front of her grave. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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A mariachi group plays during Day of the Dead at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Tess Marie Mata's altar along with other family member's pictures at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Jackie Cázares' favorite food displayed on her altar. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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One family settled in to watch the Houston Astros play in the World Series on a TV they set up. Another family watched the movie "Coco", about a Mexican boy who has an adventure on Dia de los muertos.

In the Uvalde town square, there was more food and music organized by lifelong resident Katie Fulton.

"All my life I've lived here and I don't think there's been any kind of celebrations like this," she said.

Adalynn C. Ruíz, 23, shakes Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke's hand at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Fulton described how people in Uvalde often travel to nearby cities like San Antonio to join in their Día de los Muertos celebrations. This year, they could do it at home.

And Fulton hoped that for this one evening, the community, torn apart by the shooting and the controversy that has followed, could unite around the holiday.

"We can all just be one with this celebration," she said.

A thought echoed by Cazares, Jacklyn's dad, who organized the cemetery event.

"We're all hurting but at the same time, we're happy because we're here together," he said.

Offerings on Tess Marie Mata's altar included her favorite foods. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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People make bracelets with beads, one of Jacklyn "Jackie" Jaylen Cázares' favorite activities, next to her grave. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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