Berlinda Arreola lost her “world’s sweetest” granddaughter in the Texas school massacre that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers Monday, so when she watched Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defend the state’s lenient gun laws during a press conference Tuesday, it was personal.
When Abbott said, “There are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” and then claimed those “real facts” disprove the “thesis” that stricter gun laws actually work, Arreola had a visceral reaction.
“It upset me,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t give an F what happens in Chicago. [The shooter] bought his guns legally here. He did what he did here. We need to try to find a way to change things.”
Arreola says her family’s pain is hard to comprehend. Her granddaughter, Amerie Jo Garza, was “as close to a perfect child as you could get,” she says. Amerie made the honor roll at school with all A’s and one B, showered her little brother with care and attention and would overflow with excitement when anyone took her to her favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A.
According to the grieving grandmother, the 10-year-old who loved to swim and draw was one of the first students killed by the “pure evil” gunman who purchased two high-powered assault rifles last week for his 18th birthday and then stormed a fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
“One of her classmates told my son when they were talking in the emergency room that Amerie was shot because she was trying to call 911,” Arreola says. “She was shot in cold blood for innocently trying to do something in her nature. She was very shy and timid around strangers. So, I’m pretty sure she was terrified when this gunman walked in. But her first instinct was to call 911, because she was also a protector — especially to her little brother. She always wanted to lend a hand.”
The Texas native says she considers the gunman’s mother an acquaintance and hadn’t heard any concerns about his behavior from others in the small, tight-knight town. She said it’s undeniable the shooter’s ability to carry out his carnage was linked to his ability to purchase firearms.
“He literally bought his guns a couple days ago. He had a plan. And he executed that plan as soon as he was old enough to get what he needed,” Arreola, 49, says. “I feel like 18 is too young to buy a weapon like that. I think 21 might be too young. People that age are still not fully mentally developed. They shouldn’t have a rifle like that. No, just no.” She continues: “And I feel like there should be classes. I feel like there should be training. Just like a driver’s license. You should have to pass a test, not just walk in and say, ‘I want that gun,’ and done, here you go.”
She believes if the gunman had been tested and screened last week, red flags would have surfaced.
“That man was pure evil, like a thousand and one percent evil. Who in their right mind would shoot their own grandmother and then shoot innocent children?” she says. “I just feel like it’s too easy to get a high-powered assault rifle. The laws have to change. It’s going to take a lot of work. Hopefully we can get there.”
In the meantime, her family is making arrangements for Amerie’s funeral and grateful for the outpouring of support for a GoFundMe set up by a friend of Amerie’s mom.
“Amerie was the world’s sweetest little girl. She really was. She obeyed her parents. She never got in trouble at school. And she was a little diva. She was girly. She didn’t wear dresses, but she loved purses, pretend nails, her little high heels,” Arreola says. “To us, she was a hero. She was trying to make one phone call not knowing it was going to end her life.”
Amerie’s parents expressed their devastation in heartbreaking Facebook posts.
“You did not deserve this my sweet baby girl. Mommy loves you , mommy can’t sleep without you. Mommy needs you, Amerie I can’t do this life without you. How am I supposed to live life without you? I will never understand. I love you and I’ll never be the same, ever again,” her mom Kimberly Garcia wrote.
“Ohhh my sweet baby I love you so much . I will never be happy or complete again,” dad Angel Garza wrote.