For five years, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles were a teaching team at Robb Elementary School. On Tuesday, they died together in their fourth-grade classroom — slain while probably doing their utmost, relatives said, to protect their students from a rampaging gunman.
A nephew of Garcia said authorities told the family that the teacher had sought to shield children from the gunfire.
“I want her to be remembered as someone who sacrificed her life and put her life on the line for her kids,” John Martinez, the nephew, said Wednesday. “They weren’t just her students. Those were her kids, and she put her life on the line, she lost her life to protect them. That’s the type of person she was.”
There were similar reports of heroic efforts by Mireles. “Mom, you are a hero,” Adalynn Ruiz wrote on Facebook. “My heart will forever be broken. I keep telling myself that this isn’t real. I just want to hear your voice.”
The long string of school shootings nationwide, since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, has made something that was once unthinkable a palpable risk for American schoolteachers. Garcia and Mireles, like others before them, were shot and killed in their line of duty — a grim fate that historically belonged to law enforcement and the military. There is now a National Memorial to Fallen Educators in Kansas, with names etched in stone.
Many of those Garcia and Mireles taught had just reached the double digits of life: 10. A milestone for fourth-graders. Among their names: Jose, Xavier, Nevaeh, Ellie, Tess.
In one fell swoop on Tuesday, the gunman took away the jokes, the cumbia dances and the hamming it up for camera shots or TikTok videos. He took away the freshly minted honor roll recipients and the aspiring athletes — the basketball player, the softball player. The laughter and sass, their love of drawing, their accumulation of dollar bills for a trip to Disney World.
Their teachers, too, had no shortage of energy. When the school year started, Garcia and Mireles had posted cheery greetings on school webpages.
“Hello Boys and Girls! Let me introduce myself,” Garcia wrote. “I am Mrs. Garcia and I will be one of your 4th grade teachers this year. I am so excited to begin this new school year already!” She shared, as “fun facts,” that she loved to “BBQ with my husband, listen to music, and take country cruises.”
Mireles wrote: “We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” She added that she had “a supportive, fun, and loving family” and that she loved “running, hiking, and now you just might see me riding a bike!!”
Both of the teachers were graduates of Sul Ross State University in Texas. Garcia earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in 1997, a university spokeswoman said, and Mireles earned the same in 2003.
Garcia was in her 23rd year of teaching, all at Robb Elementary. She had won various professional honors, her son Jose Garcia said, and she even taught him in third grade one year.
“She treated her students as her own,” raving about them at the family dinner table, said Garcia, 19. “They were her lifeblood. She loved engaging with children and teaching them.”
He said his mother often decorated her classroom with college pennants, mascots and other regalia to inspire students to go to college. “She wanted to instill that in their brains,” he said.
With her husband, Joe Garcia, the schoolteacher had two daughters and two sons, ages ranging from 12 to 23. The couple often hosted their extended family, including nieces, nephews and cousins, for holiday meals. (On Thursday, after this story published, Joe Garcia died of an apparent heart attack, Martinez said.)
“She’s the best cook I have ever known,” Jose Garcia said. “She’d always love feeding everyone, the whole family.”
Menudo was one of her favorite dishes, he said, along with everyday staples, such as breakfast tacos with potatoes, chorizo and eggs. She also loved fishing, the son said, joining her husband sometimes with a pole and other gear on a pier on the Gulf Coast.
Jose Garcia said he just finished his freshman year at Texas State University. On Tuesday morning, he said, he woke up to a text from his mother. She asked whether he’d be interested in a job as a physical education coach at a summer school. He replied yes.
Then came the awful news of the shooting and the lockdown and the agonizing hours of waiting. “It was very incoherent,” he said, “the way the whole day played out. I started getting worried. I texted her and never got a response back.”
Mireles, an educator for 17 years, had expertise in special education. Her aunt Lydia Martinez Delgado said Mireles was married to Ruben Ruiz, a police officer with the Uvalde school district. The couple’s daughter, Adalynn, had recently graduated from college, Delgado said.
Delgado said Mireles was cheerful and active, recalling a time she got up before sunrise with other relatives for a hike during a family gathering. “She did all she could to live a long life, and here it was cut short,” Delgado said.
Audrey Garcia, who is not related to Irma Garcia, said she will never forget the attention Mireles paid to her daughter Gabby, now 23, when she was in third grade. “My daughter has Down syndrome, and she was one of the first students at that time to be included in a regular classroom,” said Garcia, who now lives in San Antonio. “Ms. Mireles always went above and beyond. She never saw Gabby as having less potential than any of the other students.”
Mireles would often contact them around Christmas, Garcia said, because Gabby had given her an ornament as a gift.
“She would say that she always thought about Gabby when she put up her Christmas tree,” Garcia said. “After all those years, she still cared about Gabby as a student. I just want everyone to know what kind of person she was and what kind of educator she was. I don’t want her to be forgotten.”
Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.