One of two teachers killed in Tuesday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, was the mother of a U.S. Marine.
Irma Garcia, 48, died attempting to use her own body to protect students in her fourth grade classroom, her son, Pfc. Cristian Garcia, told NBC News on Wednesday. A friend in law enforcement reportedly told the Marine his mother was seen heroically shielding her students.
Nineteen children were massacred by a lone gunman ― barricaded in the classroom 23-year veteran teacher Irma Garcia shared with co-teacher Eva Mireles, 44, who also was killed.
On Thursday morning, the Marine’s father, Joe Garcia ― Irma Garcia’s grieving high school sweetheart and husband of more than 24 years ― dropped flowers off at her memorial. It wasn’t long after that he himself died, perhaps of a broken heart.
He “pretty much just fell over” and had a heart attack after returning home, nephew John Martinez told The New York Times.
The Marine Corps community must rally around Pfc. Cristian Garcia amid these overwhelming losses, said Uvalde, Texas, resident and Marine veteran Layla Martinez.
“This is a Marine Corps brother, yet his family is in total shambles right now,” she told Marine Corps Times in a Thursday phone call. “We’ve had a tragic loss in our Marine Corps family. ... I want him to know that we are here for him. We’re not abandoning him.”
Reserve Marine Pfc. Cristian Garcia, 23, is an admin clerk with 4th Recon Battalion out of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, the Marine Corps said.
He just graduated boot camp in October 2021, according to his mother’s Facebook page.
Pfc. Cristian Garcia did not have a comment at this time.
Tuesday’s rampage was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 students and six adults were shot and killed in 2012.
In Uvalde, Texas ― a largely Hispanic town of 15,000 some residents about 75 miles from the Mexican border ― alleged 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos was inside the elementary school classroom for more than an hour before he was killed in a shootout, authorities said Thursday.
The motive for the rampage remains under investigation, with authorities saying Thursday night the alleged gunman had no known criminal or mental health history, though there were some warning signs.
Martinez, who served in the Marine Corps from 2005–2009 as an air delivery specialist and got out as a lance corporal, said she and other veterans in town already have been discussing how they can bolster a safe presence on school grounds when classes start again in the fall.
“We do care about our community and the children,” she said.
The registered nurse, who returned to Uvalde, Texas, after her time in the Marine Corps, says she has friends who lost children and grandchildren in the shooting and that her heart goes out to Pfc. Cristian Garcia.
“I could never imagine having to go through something like this and then losing my father on top of it,” she said. “And now my siblings are without their mom and dad. He’s going to have to take that role. That would be a lot, especially at his young age. I want him to know our Marine Corps family is there for him and he knows we’re here for him.”
Maj. Jim Stenger, Marine Corps spokesman, said, “I offer my sincerest condolences to any Marine who may have been affected by this tragedy. I am confident the Marines ― veterans in the community and back at the unit ― will rally around the grieving as they mourn their loved ones.”
Irma Garcia loved to “BBQ with [her] husband, listen to music, and take country cruises to Concan,” according to her page on the school’s website.
Irma and Joe Garcia shared four children: Pfc. Cristian Garcia at the top, followed by brother, Jose, who attends Texas State University. Lyliana just finished sophomore year of high school, and Alysandra just finished seventh grade.
A GoFundMe account for the family had raised more than $1.6 million as of Thursday evening, with another, now closed, fundraiser garnering more than $500,000.
San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller will hold a Mass on Thursday evening at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Texas, for the Garcia family and the wider community, the archdiocese said.
A 3 p.m. visitation and 7 p.m. recitation of the rosary for Irma Garcia will take place Tuesday at Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary in Uvalde, Texas, according to an online obituary.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, followed by interment at Hillcrest Cemetery in Uvalde, Texas.
“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.”
The students killed were Nevaeh Bravo, 10, Jacklyn Cazares, 9, Makenna Lee Elrod, 10, Jose Flores, 10, Ellie Garcia, 9, Uziyah Garcia, 10, Amerie Jo Garza, 10, Jayce Luevanos, 10, Tess Mata, 10, Miranda Mathis, 11, Xavier Lopez, 10, Alithia Ramirez, 10, Annabell Rodriguez, 10, Maite Rodriguez, 10, Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, 10, Layla Salazar, 10, Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10, Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10 and Rojelio Torres, 10.
Stefanie Dazio of The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.
Andrea Scott is editor of Marine Corps Times.