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Irma Garcia, a Texas teacher gunned down while trying to protect her students, and her husband, Joe Garcia, who died two days later from a grief-induced heart attack, were remembered Tuesday by the Uvalde community during an emotional wake.
The couple lay side-by-side in twin caskets adorned with white flowers during the visitation, which brought family and friends together to mourn the tragic loss last week, according to The New York Post.
The couple’s oldest son, Christian, 23, stood at attention near the caskets in his Marine uniform at the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary.
Irma was one of 21 people to lose their lives at Robb Elementary on May 24 after an 18-year-old gunman forced his way inside the building, barricaded himself in a classroom and shot Irma, another teacher and 19 elementary students.
Her husband of 24 years, Joe Garcia, died just two days later from a heart attack while grief-stricken in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“A madman was able to walk into her classroom and kill her and those little babies,” family friend Mira Leal said Tuesday, according to The Daily Beast. “My friend and all of those little babies were gunned down in cold blood while the police just watched. I’m kind of scared because somebody could just walk in here and do the same thing to us right now. I feel like I can’t even grieve because of this fear.”
Leal, who wiped tears from her eyes and carried a cross, said she felt like it was “just all too much for me to carry.”
Minerva Rosas, another family friend, remembered the couple for the kindness they showed her family.
Rosas said she came to the United States with her family two years ago as undocumented immigrants from Mexico, but the Garcias quickly befriended the family and helped them get a work visa, jobs and stable housing.
“I can’t believe they’re gone,” she said, according to the news outlet. “They were like family to us ever since we got here.”
Others said they are still hoping to get more answers about what happened that fateful day and why police didn’t immediately rush into the building to chase the gunman, who had crashed his car nearby, to stop the violence.
“I am angry, hurt, and just torn apart,” friend Alecia Cortez said.
Cortez recounted her own family tragedy, saying one of her family members was shot to death a few years ago but the family “never got any answers.”
She’s hoping this time will be different.
Jorge Contrerras worked with Joe and remembered him as a “person you could turn to with anything and he’d always be there with a smile.” He said the couple had “loved their children and their family.”
The Garcias leave behind four children. The couple’s 15-year-old daughter Lyliana Garcia penned an emotional letter to the pair that she left outside the elementary school at a memorial resurrected to honor the lives lost.
“Dad, I know this was too much for you,” she wrote, according to The Post. “Your heart could not take it.”
“I will spend the rest of my life fighting for you and Mom,” she continued. “Your names will not be forgotten.”
The Garcias began dating in high school and built a relationship over the years based on “love” that was both “beautiful and kind,” according to their obituary.
Irma’s nephew John Martinez told People his aunt died “a hero” trying to protect the students she had loved. One of the children was even found dead in her arms, he said.
“She was a mom to them as well,” Martinez said.
He described her as a “light in every room” that had “joy in her.”
“I just really do want her to be remembered as someone who put her life on the line, to the very last moment,” he said. “She sacrificed herself.”
The couple were described in an online tribute linked to their obituaries by one family friend as having a “heart of gold.”
“We will always cherish the beautiful memories we have made with them,” the commenter wrote. “Sending healing love, prayers and strength to their beautiful children.”
“Irma you are a hero to all of us,” another person remarked.
A verified GoFundMe account set up for the family of Irma and Joe has raised more than $2.7 million, according to NPR.
"She loved her classroom kids and died trying to protect them," Irma’s cousin Debra Austin wrote on the page. "I truly believe Joe died of a broken heart and losing the love of his life of more than 25 years was too much to bear."
The couple will be laid to rest at a funeral Wednesday morning.
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