Uvalde Justice of the Peace Eulalio Diaz was tasked with the excruciating job of identifying the bodies of the 21 victims shot dead at Robb Elementary School in the small Texas town Tuesday.
Diaz worked into the night identifying the 19 children and two teachers who were gunned down in their fourth-grade classroom as families of the unaccounted for anxiously waited outside the Uvalde civic center for any updates, the El Paso Times reported.
Local authorities swabbed members of the waiting families for DNA in an effort to help identify the children who didn’t make it out of the school.
“Some of the children were not in good shape,” Diaz told the El Paso Times.
The 18-year-old mass shooting suspect, Salvador Ramos, allegedly used a powerful AR-15-style rifle — which he legally purchased a day after his 18th birthday this month — to shoot his grandmother in the face before firing off bullets at the fourth-graders and their two teachers.
In the hours following the shooting, many families were left with little information on the whereabouts of their children.
Parents, aunts, uncles and cousins of Robb Elementary School students who didn’t come home and weren’t at a nearby hospital flooded social media with photos of the children and desperate pleas for information.
They waited outside the civic center for hours, fearing the worst, with no real way of knowing if their child was killed until the bodies were matched with the names and photos of the missing students.
Diaz’s job was making the matches. He was called upon to identify the bodies because Uvalde, a rural town 80 miles west of San Antonio with a population of about 15,200 people, doesn’t have its own medical examiner.
He arrived at Robb Elementary School at 2:30 p.m. and recorded the time of death of the 21 victims as 3:10 p.m., he told the local newspaper.
He broke down as he recounted the heartbreak he felt putting a name to each of the 21 in the tight knit town where everyone seems to be a neighbor, friend of a friend or acquaintance.
“We know everybody,” Diaz said, speaking about himself and his family. “We know children who were there. As soon as we heard about the shooter, we were also fielding calls from our families.”
“Uvalde is just a small town in Southwest Texas,” Diaz said. “It wasn’t on the map.”
His own children, in the eighth and 12th grades at nearby schools, will long be marked by the tragedy, he added.
Each victim’s body must undergo an autopsy and with so many dead, he expected it’ll take 48 hours before the bodies can be released to loved ones.
He will then have another heartbreaking duty.
“It’s going to be tough when I have to type up 21 death certificates,” he said.