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Heartbreaking tribute to Uvalde school shooting victims at San Antonio's Muertosfest

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Jack Morgan
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Texas Public Radio
Lanier High School's Día de Muertos altar

Lanier High School art students built an altar dedicated to the students and teachers who lost their lives at the Robb Elementary School shooting.

People throughout South Texas are celebrating Día de los Muertos by building colorful altars and decorating them with photos of their lost loved ones, flowers and their favorite foods. The citywide celebration Muertosfest has included a monument specifically honoring the children and teachers lost to the Uvalde school shooting.

Muertosfest’s Chris Davila said 80 altars were set up throughout Hemisfair, the tree-shaded downtown site of the city’s 1968 World’s Fair.

“This year we have altars coming from as far away as Harlingen,” Davila said. “We have a group that are coming from Midland. We have a group coming from Austin. And then, for the most part, everyone from here in San Antonio.”

Davila said each of those 80 altars are touching in their own way, but that Lanier High School’s art class has produced something different.

“They join us every single year and always produce an altar that is somehow poignant and heartfelt. This year, they are choosing to honor the students and the teachers who were victims at Robb Elementary,” she said.

Earlier on Friday morning, a thunderstorm blew through the park. Wind gusts left the 30 students setting up displays grasping poles of a campground canopy to keep them in place. Their teacher, Jennifer Arce, had been moving nonstop, asking students to move this, glue-gun that. She took a break and sat on a wet bench to talk

“We created an altar in honor of the teachers and students who lost their lives at Robb Elementary during that horrible day in May. So what we're doing right now is we're setting up our altar,” Arce said. “This is my art club kids and some of my advanced students that are doing this project.”

That altar comes in 20 large parts: One each for the 19 students who died, and one piece for the two teachers who passed. Each of the 19 look like small student desks.

“Each student has their own individual desk and then we have a teacher desk that's for the two teachers,” she said. “We'll set it almost as if the teacher desk is going to be the head of the classroom, and the students' desks will be facing towards the teacher desk.”

Art students, with the help of Lanier’s shop class, built those 19 desks, each now an altar. Student Lexie Mieto’s desk honors student Jacklyn Casares. The picture of Jacklyn shows her in a formal white dress.

“She wanted to be a veterinarian. I really focused on that by putting a paw print and then including the four dogs she had,” she said.

 somber thoughts as they look over the desks
Jack Morgan
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somber thoughts as they look over the desks

Even though the Robb Elementary students were an hour-and-a-half away, Mieto said she still feels an uneasy threat.

“This could have happened easily to us or any one of our relatives as well,” she said. “For me personally, I would want someone to do this for my siblings if they lost their lives or even for me, possibly. Everyone should be remembered.”

Student Kye Blackburn worked with Mieto on Jacklyn’s desk.

“To really look at those pictures and think that somebody went to an elementary school and did those things to those innocent children … it hurts.”

Blackburn said the Lanier students felt a responsibility to honor each one.

 students putting together the desks on Friday morning
Jack Morgan
/
students putting together the desks on Friday morning

“We've actually looked up information on every individual student to make sure that we got everything right,” Blackburn said. “What they liked, what they're into. Their favorite colors, their favorite superhero. We made sure we got every detail of the students. So whenever their parents can look at that, they can feel like their child is with them.”

Arce said she’s keenly aware that school shootings are now a common event. She hopes she’ll never have to experience one.

“That's something that always weighs heavy in the back of my mind, because it could happen at my school one day, and I would do the same thing that those teachers did,” Arce said.

“I would protect my students. Those are my students from 8:15 to 4:15 every day for a whole entire year. I don't have children personally myself. So those are my children when they get dropped off at Lanier High School.”

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. The entire display was set up and orange marigolds were placed everywhere. Santiago Jiménez Jr. played on a stage about 75 yards away. Fifteen or 20 people at any given time stopped and looked over the ofrenda, taking pictures. Many wiped away tears.

 students begin assembling exhibition on Friday morning
Jack Morgan
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students begin assembling exhibition on Friday morning

Marty Barton-Rivera mourned the loss in Uvalde.

“Every one of them was way too young. It never should have happened. I think this is an incredible tribute though,” she said.

Barton-Rivera said the tragedies didn’t end on that one day in May.

“It's a tragedy that these are happening weekly in the United States, and we need to do something to help curtail that,” Barton-Rivera said.

20 year-old Doxey Kamara was there with his mother.

 Muertosfest-goers take in the display
Jack Morgan
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Muertosfest-goers take in the display

“I am profoundly disappointed in the systems that let this happen because these people should not be dead and these are all children. And I think it does represent a systematic failure,” he said.

His mother Leslie Kamara gave a response that perhaps only mothers can.

“Every time I hear news like this: Where are my babies? Are they okay? How would I move heaven and earth to get to them? And all of that was brought to life in that massacre,” Kamara said. “These parents who couldn't get to their kids and the police who made no effort to get to these babies and legislators who fail over and over and over again to protect us and our babies.”

A woman in a salmon-colored dress with flowery headgear moved slowly through the desks, dabbing at her tears. Cynthia Cantu had traveled all the way from Brownsville to see Muertosfest.

“I'm a teacher, a retired teacher. And this just touches my heart,” she sobbed. “It's hard.”

 Cynthia Cantu in front of the Lanier desks
Jack Morgan
/
Cynthia Cantu in front of the Lanier desks

Cantu said seeing all the pictures of the children made her think of her own, and their good fortune.

“As a mother of two children that have been able to see their lives in college and as a professional, my daughter in her career…it is very touching,” she said. “God bless the children and their parents.”

Arce said that after Muertosfest, the parents of the slain children would be welcome to take home their child’s desk, if they want to.

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Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

 Lexie Mieto with the desk she helped build
Jack Morgan /
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Lexie Mieto with the desk she helped build
 Kye Blackburn with the desk he helped build
Jack Morgan /
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Kye Blackburn with the desk he helped build
 student with the desk she helped build for Maranda Mathis
Jack Morgan /
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student with the desk she helped build for Maranda Mathis
 student with the desk she helped build
Jack Morgan /
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student with the desk she helped build
 student with the desk she helped build
Jack Morgan /
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student with the desk she helped build
 student with the desk she helped build
Jack Morgan /
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student with the desk she helped build
 student with the desk she helped build
Jack Morgan /
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student with the desk she helped build
 student with the desk she helped build
Jack Morgan /
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student with the desk she helped build

Jack Morgan has spent 35 years in electronic media, doing both television and radio.