After Massacre, a Small Texas Cemetery Strains to Bury So Many Dead


“This feels like a terrifying, crushing nightmare except that I’m somehow awake,” stated Ms. Cardenas-Lomas, 57.

In the span of a 12 months, Ms. Cardenas-Lomas stated, the cemetery usually handles fewer than 15 burials, far fewer than the graves that must be dug within the coming days after a gunman killed 26 on the First Baptist Church in one of many worst mbad shootings within the historical past of the United States.

With the church nonetheless cordoned off by investigators, the city’s focus is now shifting to the cemetery, one of many few different institutional fixtures binding folks collectively right here.

A pair who had simply begun to get pleasure from retirement, Richard Rodriguez, 64, a railroad foreman, and Therese Rodriguez, 66, who labored as a receptionist, will probably be buried on Saturday, the primary in a sequence of funerals that can check the nerves of this threadbare city of about 400 folks.

“It would be different if they were killed in a car crash or from sickness,” stated Regina Rodriguez, 33, a daughter of Mr. Rodriguez’s who works at Toyota’s truck manufacturing facility in San Antonio.

“But this feels so unreal, bigger than anything anyone should deal with,” she stated. “Burying my dad in that cemetery is the last time I’ll get to see his presence.”


Todd Heisler/The New York Times

This huge state has as many as 50,000 cemeteries, from elegantly manicured expanses in Houston to remoted graves within the West Texas plains. Some cemeteries stay segregated to today, not by legislation however by societal divisions that persevered lengthy after Texas seceded from Mexico and sided with the Confederacy to perpetuate slavery.

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But in Sutherland Springs, the place McLeouds are buried subsequent to Martinezes, Baptists alongside Roman Catholics, ranchers close to ranch palms, the cemetery appears to have cast within the city a way of unity on the subject of burying the useless. Some aged residents make it some extent to attend each funeral as a method to pay respects and join with neighbors.


Therese and Richard Rodriguez, the primary victims to be buried on the cemetery.

“Rural cemeteries in Texas like the one in Sutherland Springs are as much a space for the living as for the dead,” stated Ana Juárez, an anthropologist at Texas State University. “They bind people together through cycles of cultural change, enabling us to see how society itself is changing over the decades.”

The cemetery in Sutherland Springs is nothing elaborate by Texas phrases. A easy iron gate welcomes guests. Reflecting, maybe, the lengthy decline within the city’s fortunes, a single plot prices about $600 in contrast with practically $2,000 in close by La Vernia.

And but the individuals who reside right here have a tendency their graveyard with affection. Small American flags adorn a number of the graves; plastic flowers, crosses, even cowboy boots are close to others.

Funeral ceremonies are normally intimate and modest. An area pastor from the denomination of the departed reads from Scripture. Mourners gown up, however not extravagantly. The cemetery is shut sufficient to the middle of city that some folks stroll. Afterward, they collect for a meal on the grieving household’s dwelling.

Some of the common mourners are bracing for what comes subsequent. On Wednesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety launched the names of the useless — 10 ladies, seven males, eight kids, and the unborn fetus carried by one of many victims, Crystal M. Holcombe. The youngest of the kids was 1; the oldest of the adults was 77.

Footage captured on a video digital camera usually used to report providers made clear that the gunman, Devin P. Kelley, stormed into the church on Sunday intent on capturing everybody there, and practically did. Law enforcement officers who reviewed the video stated that for a number of minutes he fired shortly, pausing solely to reload, methodically capturing a few of his terrified victims, together with babies, within the head.

“Everybody knows everybody that got killed,” stated Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, who traveled with Vice President Mike Pence to Sutherland Springs on Wednesday, and who has attended Memorial Day providers on the cemetery.

Easing the pressure considerably on the small graveyard, a few the victims who had been veterans could have burials at a navy cemetery in San Antonio, and a few households could go for cremations.

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Still, earlier than the primary coffins are laid into the bottom right here, others stated they had been doing what they may to organize. Kristy James, the previous proprietor of a flower retailer in close by Stockdale, got here into the shop, Moo Valley Flowers, on Wednesday simply to supply a shoulder to cry on for grieving neighbors and former clients.

“We’re the town psychologists,” stated Ms. James, 45, referring to the position that florists play at funerals. She didn’t know if she would make it to the cemetery for all of the providers, however she was ready emotionally to be there for her mates afterward. “This is why you have to be a rock,” she stated.

Antonio Morales, 79, a retired farmworker who insists on going to each funeral on the town, was among the many residents right here who had been dealing with the tragedy. Days after the capturing, he was on the cemetery cleansing up as a chilly entrance enveloped Sutherland Springs.

“When the wind blows too hard, it blows the flowers away, so I go over there and pick them up and put them back,” stated Mr. Morales, whose spouse and different kinfolk are buried right here.

Mr. Morales stated funerals had been an event for the city to come back collectively, emphasizing that Sutherland Springs wanted this unity greater than ever after the capturing.

“It don’t make no difference if you’re Spanish or white or whatever,” he stated. “If you’re from around here, we all get together.”

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