Uvalde school shooting

Exclusive: One week after his daughter was killed in Uvalde, how a father is channelling his grief

The father of Uvalde victim Annabell Rodriguez, 10, is channeling his grief into anger about assault weapon sales and the disastrous police response to the shooting at Robb Elementary School, he tells Sheila Flynn

Tuesday 31 May 2022 13:51 BST
Jessie Rodriguez, 53, poses with his daughter, Annabell, 10, who was killed last week in the Uvalde elementary school massacre
Jessie Rodriguez, 53, poses with his daughter, Annabell, 10, who was killed last week in the Uvalde elementary school massacre (Esmeralda Rodriguez)

Jessie Rodriguez is sitting in a Uvalde park where he used to picnic with his twin daughters, trying to come to terms with the fact that one of the girls will never accompany him again.

It’s been less than a week since, Annabell, 10, was senselessly gunned down along with 18 other students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. The grief is written on Mr Rodriguez’s face and in his gestures, though he says the reality of her absence – no more laughter making TikTok videos, no more chats about her dreams to become a veterinarian – has yet to fully set in.

In the meantime, he’s sure of one emotion: unadulterated anger.

Anger at the authorities. Anger at the fact the shooter, Salvador Ramos, had legal access to assault weapons and reams of ammunition.

“Assault rifles shouldn’t be sold at all, period,” Mr Rodriguez, 53, tells The Independent. “We understand having an assault rifle for the military; not personal use. Not to gun down our children … all the children gunned down like they were animals.

“There’s no justice in selling a kid an assault rifle and especially that amount of clips and bullets. It’s unbelievable.”

Jessie Rodriguez says his daughter Annabell, pictured, loved animals, school, music, tacos and pizza (Esmeralda Rodriguez)

He’s even more incredulous, however, at the revelations about just how long it took trained, armed response units to enter the school.

After repeatedly contradicting themselves, authorities last week finally revealed that nearly an hour passed before officers stormed the school and shot dead 18-year-old Ramos.

It was “more likely many children probably still were there just bleeding out, but yet they didn’t try to rescue nobody”, Mr Rodriguez says.

“It’s wrong to just think, ‘They’re all dead anyways.’ You don’t think negative like that; you enter and put down that man, find out if there’s still survivors – not just wait till they bleed out.”

Annabell and her maternal cousin, Jacklyn Cazares, were among the children killed by Ramos. Mr Rodriguez and his family did not know for many hours that his daughter would not be coming home. Her mother was one of the parents asked to submit DNA swabs to help identify her child.

Mr Rodriguez, who works as a contractor, was at a job about five miles outside of Uvalde when his fiancee, Esmeralda, called to say Annabell’s mother had frantically notified her about a shooting at the school. He drove back into town and joined the desperate search for his little girl.

“We went all over the place looking for her, and everybody kept giving us the runaround,” he tells The Independent. “We even tried to go back to the hospital, and they wouldn’t let us in; they blocked all the entrances, so we came back downtown and checked the list of all the children that got transported downtown, and her name wasn’t listed.

Mr Rodriguez and his fiancee, Esmeralda, say it’s still sinking in that Annabell will no longer be joining her twin as they laugh and dance during visits to their home (Sheila Flynn)

“So I went back and forth to every ambulance that I saw, asking to see if maybe they had her. I went to her school, and all the entrances to the school were blocked; there were cops there, but they kept telling us all the children were evacuated.”

Hearing a rumour that some children had been taken to Hondo, about 40 miles east, Mr Rodriguez drove there, too, clinging to hope.

It wasn’t until later that night that he received the heartbreaking confirmation that his Annabell was dead.

“She was one of the children among many still lying on the floor,” he says.

He’s beyond devastated, unable to properly eat or sleep since he found out; he dreaded facing Annabell’s twin, Angeli, who did not attend Robb and thankfully was nowhere near the school that day.

Mr Rodriguez’s fiancee – who has been sitting in the couple’s white pickup, emblazoned with the words “Annabell Rodriguez Daddy Missing You” and a hand-drawn broken heart – joins him.

“When we went to go see Angeli, the first thing she said: ‘Why didn’t he just shoot himself first, instead of going into the room and killing all those kids?’” Esmeralda says. “I had told [Mr Rodriguez] the same exact words.”

As they prepare to bury Annabell, they want the fourth-grader remembered for the way she lived and not just the way she died.

“She was a happy child,” Mr Rodriguez tells The Independent. “Always liked to joke around, be goofy. She loved school; she was a straight-A student. She loved music; she was always doing TikToks all the time.”

She loved animals and playing with her pets, including her father’s Chiweenie, Patrona, sporadically yapping in the pickup as he and his fiancee describe the 10-year-old. Like so many children her age, she was a picky eater – but loved tacos, pizza, and McDonald’s, Mr Rodriguez says.

“We loved Annabel at the house, because she was a very happy little girl, along with her little twin sister,” Esmeralda says. “I liked it when they would go over, because they would be dancing and making us laugh. And I’m going to miss her.

“I’m going to miss her a lot.”

Like Mr Rodriguez, Esmeralda – who has two grown children of her own – cannot fathom how Ramos could attack “innocents”.

“I’m very upset [at] what this monster did,” she tells The Independent. “He shook all the nation. He made the kids suffer, and now everybody’s suffering because of that – and it’s wrong.”

Like the rest of the community – and so many families across the US – she feels a deep fear after the massacre in sleepy Uvalde.

Jessie Rodriguez stands in Uvalde near his pickup, on which he has written ‘Annabell Rodriguez Daddy Missing You’ with a hand-drawn broken heart (Sheila Flynn)

“If I had little ones, I wouldn’t send them to school no more,” she says, adding: “My future grandkids, because I don’t have any yet, I’m not going to want them to go to school. No way.”

Mr Rodriguez can’t stop thinking about the fear that Annabell and her classmates felt when Ramos barged into the school last week – especially when would-be rescuers were right outside.

“Everybody’s got these guys under protective custody because they’re fearing for their life,” he says, referring to the fact that Uvalde school district police chief, Pete Arredondo, who allegedly made the call to wait, is now being protected.

“How do they think our children felt, fearing for their lives?”

He says: “What these guys did, waiting and waiting for backup, our children were crying for somebody, waiting for somebody to save them, and nobody did.

“It took one hour before they could put a stop to this man … but it’s a little bit too late.”

Mr Rodriguez, who is originally from Oklahoma and lived 26 years in Houston before moving to Uvalde, also finds it hard to comprehend that such an atrocity occurred in this 15,000 person town.

“I was happy to get away from [Houston],” he says, calling it “very dangerous”.

“I didn’t think this little town was going to be this dangerous. I thought my children were safe here. Never in my life would’ve thought something like this … would happen.”

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