A 10-year-old student of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has told of how she narrowly missed the shooting, which killed 12 of her classmates, after going home early.
Katarina Roque told The Telegraph she did not feel well after a morning awards ceremony, which was attended by parents, and asked her mother to go home.
“She was supposed to be in the classroom, but I took her out early,” Marisela Roque, 34, said.
“I just thank God that I did, because I was going to leave her and I didn’t.
“She said she wanted to leave around 11, but I said ‘no, that’s too early’ but after that I said ‘ok, let’s go’.”
An hour later, Mrs Roque got a call from another parent at the school, telling her there was an active shooter at Robb Elementary and that some students had been injured.
It was only later the family realised gunman Salvador Ramos had attacked Katarina's class in a rampage that killed 19 students and two teachers. Almost an entire school year wiped out overnight.
“I prayed all day and thanked God for saving her,” the mother-of-four told The Telegraph.
Katarina, a student of the fourth grade, said she was “glad” her mother took her home.
“All my friends died - 12 of them. I lost my best friends Alithia and Jacklyn,” Katarina said, whose teacher Arnulfo Reyes was also shot and injured, but expected to survive.
Alithia Ramirez, 10, was killed by Ramos alongside Jacklyn Cazares and her cousin Annabell Rodriguez, after the 18-year-old shooter barricaded himself in their classroom and opened fire with an AR-15.
He entered Robb Elementary shortly after 11.30am, 30 minutes after the Roques left to go home.
“They were like sisters,” Mrs Roque said, adding her daughter had not yet processed what happened.
Katarina said she had not been given any drills, or training by her school of what to do in the event of an active shooter.
“My friends probably didn’t know what to do, how to hide,” she said.
The Roque family was among hundreds attending a vigil at the County Fairplex in Uvalde, the small 16,000-population city located midway between San Antonio and the Mexican border.
Relatives of another young victim sobbed as they held up her picture.
“She would have been so scared,” her grandmother cried, overcomes with emotions. “I just want her back.”
Local church pastors led prayers as the families, friends and classmates remembered the 21 victims.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican who has come under fire for Texas’ lax gun legislation, wiped away tears from his seat in the stand as a church leader held his hand on the politician’s chest.
The close-knit, largely Hispanic community includes many families who have lived there for generations after fleeing Mexico.
Residents are knitted together by family and friendship, said Joe Ruiz, a pastor born and raised in Uvalde with children and grandchildren there.
“Everybody knows everybody or is connected to everybody,” Rev Ruiz said. He said his cousin’s wife was one of the teachers killed in the attack.
Signs appeared around Uvalde on Wednesday reading “Uvalde Strong”, while stores - including the one where 18-year-old Ramos bought the guns used in the attack - read that their prayers are with the families.
Children who should have been at school sat in a Burger King not far from Robb Elementary on Wednesday afternoon.
Nine-year-old Eva Rodriquez picked listlessly at her chips as she clutched a rucksack still full of books from the previous day’s lessons.
Her grandmother, Francesca, sobbed. “It’s a miracle, a true miracle she isn’t dead,” she said.
Eva, traumatised, has said little since she escaped alive by climbing out of the window of her third grade classroom.
“It's like a horrible nightmare that we will never wake up from," her grandmother said.
"It’s more than a small town can bear."
“If you drive through town, you can already feel it’s different,” Liza Cazares said, whose husband lost Annabell and Jacklyn. “Those were 21 lives that we can’t get back.”
But sadness was already beginning to turn to anger as more details emerged of the police attempt to stop the shooting.
The parents of some of the victims had gathered at the scene at lunchtime while the shooter was still in the school building, urging police officers to go in and stop the attack for nearly an hour.
The first 911 call was received 90 minutes earlier, at 11.30am, saying a man had emerged from a crashed vehicle with a long rifle and a backpack.
Jacklyn’s father Jacinto Cazares said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still massed outside the building.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said.
“There were five or six of [us] fathers, hearing the gunshots, and [officers] were telling us to move back,” Mr Cazares told the Washington Post.
“We wanted to storm the building. We were saying, ‘Let’s go’ because ... we wanted to get our babies out.”
Shots were reportedly being heard for more than 45 minutes after local police arrived at the scene.
“More could have been done. There was at least 40 lawmen armed to the teeth but didn't do a darn thing until it was far too late," Mr Cazares said.
“The situation could've been over quick if they had better tactical training, and we as a community witnessed it firsthand.
“They were unprepared.”