UVALDE, Texas — For the first time, Makenna Elrod-Seiler's father speaks about his pain after his daughter was taken away from him in the Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde.
As summer ends and the chatter about what happened in Uvalde slows down, Makenna's family reminds people that the work is not finished.
There were 19 students and two teachers slain in a mass shooting the last week of class in May. It was a tragedy the world couldn't comprehend. And in a town so small, everyone's affected.
Walking up to Robb Elementary, there is no summer school or summer camp, just a deserted playground and a memorial where, more than two months later, flowers, teddy bears and crosses sit. Love from strangers worldwide is still piling up at the campus.
Thirty minutes from Uvalde, in the Frio River, the sounds of summer return. For one family, precious memories rush in.
"Floating down with her peace sign, in these trees," recalled Chris Seiler as he remembered his youngest daughter, Makenna.
"Eating popsicles," said Makenna's great aunt, Jackie Seiler Horak, as they sat around a table.
For seven summers, Seiler's family visited the Magers campsite.
"This is our spot," said Seiler. "She ran around this whole area right here like crazy. I can't walk by hardly any of this stuff without having a memory of her, especially in the water down there."
This year, he made the trip without his baby girl.
"She loved coming here. Some of the happiest times she had and some of her fondest memories were spent right here," Seiler said.
Ten-year-old Makenna was one of the children killed on May 24.
"You know, after something like this, you find yourself staring at the wall, and your body aches," said Seiler. "I don't even feel like myself anymore."
"I love my dad because he always takes care of us, has stuff ready for us, and when I go to his house, he makes my heart beat better," Makenna said in a Father's Day video to Seiler.
"She had a shining personality and she couldn't go anywhere without making best friends," said Seiler. "I know of 10 or 12 kids that thought they were best friends."
"We would text back and forth and it was 'I love you more. No, I love you more. No, not possible,'" said Seiler. "If I didn't just quit texting, we'd still be doing it right now. That's how hard she loved."
The fourth-grader was just coming into her own. She started playing softball this year and began reading the Bible just months ago.
"In the last month or two, her favorite song became the 'Lion and the Lamb' and she played it everywhere," said Seiler.
While Seiler wasn't her biological father, he helped Makenna's mother raise her since she was three.
"I couldn't leave them behind," said Seiler.
He was working on getting Makenna and her little brother's last name changed to Seiler.
"And, um, we didn't get there in time," said Seiler. "When they got their baseball pictures, I was there and they came and gave me one of the pictures and asked, 'Daddy, next year, can this say Seiler instead of Elrod,'" said Seiler. "I said, 'Absolutely, I'm working on it.'"
Seiler has two biological children with Makenna's mom, April. Seiler said when he picked up his older daughter, Makenna would run outside and wrap herself around his leg.
"It just got me," said Seiler. "I had no idea that one day I would be her dad."
Makenna's great aunt, Mandi Battaglia Seiler, and aunt, Allison McCullough, can still hear her now.
"She loved to sing along with him and she loved to dance. As long as he was leading, she was happy," said McCullough. "She was the first one in front of the camera."
The tune of their love, forever flowing like a river but solid as a rock.
"Makenna loves to paint river rocks," said Seiler. "So we all decided we'd make one for her and place it here."
They were placed at the root of the tree she climbed as a little girl up until her final months.
"And hopefully other people that camp down here will add to it," said Seiler.
PHOTOS: Memorial for Uvalde shooting victim Makenna Elrod Seiler
Like the tree Makenna would climb, her presence is still large and felt in many ways.
"So she loved butterflies," said Seiler.
Seiler said since her passing, tiger swallowtails continuously appeared.
"At the softball fields when we went to honor her, then there was another one trying to fly into my truck and that's when I knew it had to be this," said Seiler as he pointed at his butterfly and feather tattoo.
McCullough got a similar tattoo, but not just in honor of her niece, Makenna.
"Irma and Eva were the best teachers," said McCullough.
McCullough herself taught first through fourth grades at Robb Elementary for 15 years before transferring the year before the tragedy. Her two best friends, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, were also taken from her on May 24.
"Garcia's arms were wrapped around her at the end, and she was in the arms of a mother who loved her," said McCullough.
"There's not a greater gift my friend could do," said McCullough. "So we will honor them."
From Makenna's tree in Concan, back to Uvalde, memorials honor who the 21 victims were and who they would've been.
"We're all hoping for some kind of change because it shouldn't happen anywhere," said Seiler.
A reminder that change has to happen.
"It's about protecting children and keeping them safe," said Seiler.
So healing can begin as the toughest summer comes to an end.
"Our town, our Uvalde strong family, is going to change the world," said McCullough.
To honor Makenna, Seiler will host an annual rodeo the second week of April, close to her birthday on April 19. He also created a nonprofit called Makenna Lee Elrod-Seiler Memorial Fund to give a college scholarship to a Uvalde senior at the rodeo.
If you want to donate to the fund, contact the Frontier Bank of Texas or send donations to P.O. Box 551 Elgin, TX, 78621.
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