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'We have to be strong, mija' | Candlelight vigil illuminates Uvalde Memorial Park

Carrying the torch were survivors of room 112 at Robb Elementary School and surviving teacher Arnulfo Reyes.

UVALDE, Texas — Survivors of room 112 at Robb Elementary led the way in Wednesday's candlelight vigil in Uvalde.

More than 1,000 people packed Uvalde Memorial Park’s amphitheater.

The evening vigil was open to the public — opening the door for out of towners. This included people from San Antonio who attended in a show of solidarity.

Wednesday evening's vigil, which began at 7:30 p.m., started with a prayer.

"We’re here to honor those that we lost so tragically. Totally unnecessary," said Gloria Gutierrez, a former elementary school principal who lives in San Antonio.

Families of the 19 students and 2 teachers color coordinated, wearing pictures of their loved one on their customized t-shirts. Many who sat nearby didn’t know these families, but wanted them to know they’re not alone.

"Most importantly it’s to be with the families who are grieving and to give them support and solace during this time. Unfortunately things still haven’t changed from a year ago," said Nicolette Ardiente, also from San Antonio, who remembers working the primary election May 24 of last year when she heard the news.

Following prayer, people joined together in singing "I Can Only Imagine," a song by MercyMe that was written after the loss of a group member's father.

One year later in Uvalde, the grieving process has only just begun, with hearts still broken for the 21 brave souls.

"You know some of them. You see them in stores, you see them with their mothers, with their dads, with their grandmothers helping them in their car," said Uvalde resident, Elmira Charles. “They’re all in heaven. All of them in heaven.”

The vigil also honored the other children and teachers across America who lost their lives to gun violence.

“I look at the families and what they’re still fighting for and the fact that we’ve gained so little in a year it just breaks my heart,” said Gutierrez.

Advocates say, in year two, they’re taking their fight for change to gun laws to the federal level.

“I believe the only way to heal this community is by the community. It’s gonna take every day people. Not just the ones that buried their child, but it’s gonna take everyone for the healing to begin," said Angela Villescaz with gun safety advocate group, Fierce Madres.

As the sun set Wednesday, candlelight illuminated Uvalde Memorial Park.

Carrying the torch were survivors of room 112 at Robb Elementary School and surviving teacher Arnulfo Reyes.

Each survivor helped light more than 1,000 candles to represent the light of love.

"We will always be Uvalde strong. We have to be strong, ,ija, we have to be strong. We have to for the parents, for the children that they lost, for the future. They were our future," said Charles. "We are gonna continue to be Uvalde strong. We will fight for their justice. We will.”

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