The screams of parents could be heard from outside the makeshift crisis centre where they had gathered in Uvalde, Texas.
They had waited for hours, after completing the grim task of providing DNA to learn whether their children had joined America’s ever-growing roll call of school-shooting victims.
When they heard the news, their cries pierced the night.
Some seemed to struggle to walk under the weight of their grief as they made their way to their cars, now returning home one passenger short.
Virtually all of Alfred Garza’s family had waited with him in the reunification hub in the small town of Uvalde, halfway between San Antonio and the Mexican border.
On his phone he had a photo of his daughter, 10-year-old Amerie Jo, beaming with a certificate she had received that very day at the Robb Elementary School.
Mr Garza had rushed there on his lunch break when he heard the school was locked down due to an active shooter.
Late on Tuesday night, he learned the smiling photograph he held of his “full of life”, “jokester” daughter was one of her final moments.
“Thank you everyone for the prayers and help trying to find my baby. She’s been found. My little love is now flying high with the angels above,” he said.
By Wednesday afternoon, all of the victims had been identified.
Amerie-Jo was one of 19 pupils, aged between seven and 10, and two teachers killed in the once sleepy town which now claims the unenviable notoriety of the home of America’s second-deadliest school massacre.
The small, 16,000-population city of Uvalde has been left broken. Nothing like Tuesday’s attack has even happened to this quiet, largely Hispanic community located 85 miles west of San Antonio.
Children who should have been at school sat in a Burger King not far from Robb Elementary on Wednesday afternoon. Nine-year-old Eva Rodriquez picked listlessly at her chips as she clutched a rucksack still full of books from the previous day’s lessons.
Her grandmother, Francesca, sobbed. “It’s a miracle, a true miracle she isn’t dead,” she said. Eva, traumatised, has said little since she escaped alive by climbing out of the window of her third grade classroom. “It's like a horrible nightmare that we will never wake up from," her grandmother said. "It’s more than a small town can bear."
People from across Texas drove in to leave wooden crosses, cards and flowers for the young victims, many of whom had only ever passed through Uvalde before, never stopping. “Texans are behind you,” read one bunch of tulips left near the site.
The town lies in a rural area, 85 miles west of the city of San Antonio. Census data suggests there was hitherto a quiet stability to life in the town. More than 40 per cent of the people who live near the school have lived in the same house for at least 30 years.
Robb Elementary School’s 535 students had gone to class that morning expecting a day of celebration.
With just two days left before the summer holidays, they were dressed in their finest clothes to enjoy a Footloose and Fancy themed day at school.
Before the lunch bell had rung, the celebrations were brought to an abrupt end as gunshots rang out on the school grounds.
One 10-year-old survivor said her class had been watching a film when she looked out of the window and saw a man outside with a gun.
She alerted her teacher and soon the class could hear gunfire aimed towards nearby windows.
They survived by jumping out of their classroom window, one by one.
Teenage shooter Salvador Ramos, dressed head to toe in black and wearing body armour, had run in a side door of the school at 11.30am, just after the school’s mid-morning lesson break.
Lieutenant Chris Olivarez, from the Texas Department of Public Safety, said he crashed his car nearby before making his way into the school, armed with an assault rifle.
A police officer stationed at the school tried to prevent Ramos from entering, followed by two more officers. At least two officers were shot, neither seriously.
It remains unclear how Ramos was able to bypass the officers and enter the school.
“At that point they began breaking windows around the school, trying to evacuate children, teachers, anybody they could, to try to get them out of that building,” Mr Olivarez said.
Meanwhile, Ramos made his way into a classroom and began indiscriminately shooting at the children and teachers inside.
He had “no regard for human life, just a complete evil person”, Mr Olivarez told NBC News.
Once barricaded inside, Ramos exchanged gunfire with an elite tactical law enforcement unit, before being shot dead.
Some students were already in the school cafeteria where staff turned off the lights and rushed to lock the doors, warning the children not to make a sound.
They were eventually able to make for safety through a side exit.
Too many were not so fortunate. Along with Amerie-Jo, they were named as teacher Eva Mireles, a 44-year-old mother and lifelong educator, and 10-year-old Xavier Lopez, who loved to dance and never shied from the camera.
“He was funny, never serious and his smile,” his mother, Felicha Martinez, told The Washington Post, her voice breaking. “That smile I will never forget. It would always cheer anyone up.”
Ms Mireles’ daughter said in a tribute that her mother had “selflessly jumped in front of her students to save their lives”.
A second slain teacher, Imra Garcia, was reported to have “sacrificed herself” to protect her students from the gunman. “She died a hero,” a family member said.
Jacob Silguero, 35, was waiting at the civic centre for news of his 10-year-old daughter, Jailah, when he was asked to give a DNA sample.
“I figured after the DNA swab test, it was something bad,” he said. “About an hour later, they called to confirm that she had passed.”
Other victims were identified as Uziyah Garcia, eight, Makenna Lee Elrod, 10, Eliahana Torres, 10, Ellie Lugo, 10, and 10-year-old Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez.
The teenage gunman had purchased his cache of lethal weapons immediately after his 18 birthday on May 16.
Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, said that 30 minutes before the massacre, the gunman posted on social media: “I’m going to shoot my grandmother.”
He then shot his grandmother in the face. Then, he posted: “I shot my grandmother.”
Fifteen minutes before the massacre, he posted: “I’m going to shoot an elementary school.”
In social media messages to a young German girl he had recently met online, Ramos explained that he had just shot his grandmother and was continuing onward to "shoot up" the school.
The 15-year-old girl, who lives in Frankfurt, told The New York Times that Ramos was angry with his grandmother that morning because she was "on the phone with AT&T," a US telecommunications provider, on a call concerning his phone.
According to the girl, Ramos spent a lot of time alone at home and "he never had plans with his friends."
Breaking: The gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, texted an online friend yesterday morning saying "I just shot my grandma in her head" and "Ima go shoot up a elementary school," per texts shared with me.
More: https://t.co/2NkJN1NHHg pic.twitter.com/Z8UKB4D8Xv
— Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs (@NickAtNews) May 25, 2022
Investigators are looking into reports that the grandmother, who survived, might have once worked at Robb Elementary.
Relatives of the injured say Ramos, who attended a nearby high school in the predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood of Uvalde, shot several of the children in the arm and in the face.
Eyewitnesses described watching the day of terror play out at the school.
Derek Sotelo, 26, who runs a car garage nearby, was heading to lunch with a colleague when they heard gunshots. As they rounded the corner, they saw several women screaming: “He’s shooting! He’s shooting!”
The women said the gunman had driven his grey truck into a ditch outside the school. When they approached to offer assistance, he shot at them.
After Ramos entered the school, anxious parents gathered outside. As the wait unfolded, the crowd grew to more than 300 people.
An hour after the shooting began, small groups of children began emerging from the building, some holding hands as they fled under police escort to a safety point.
Less than two miles away, the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center had become a makeshift crisis centre for families looking for their children.
As the evening stretched on, families gathered in silence outside waiting for news of their loved ones.
Parents who had gathered there were shown photographs of the rucksack each child was found with, to see if they could recognise them.
They were then asked to give DNA samples to help identify their children and instructed to wait.
One father fought back tears as his worst fears were confirmed, his cousins embracing him.
A few yards away, a woman said she would not stop praying for her 10-year-old granddaughter as they waited for the results of their own DNA swabs.
Some families sat in silence or sobbed quietly as a group of children sat on the floor playing with teddy bears.
Amid the grief, anger was also building. Jacinto Cazares said he blamed the school and police for the massacre - not the weapon used to kill his 10-year-old daughter Jacklyn.
“We hold the school responsible for not having locked doors and no protocol, no training,” he told ABC News. There were “at least 40” armed law enforcement officials who “didn’t do a darn thing till it was far too late”.
A picture that speaks a thousand words. The family of a young victim of Robb Elementary shooting weeps as Ted Cruz bows his head speechless pic.twitter.com/Bdw8WTdXES
— Josie Ensor (@Josiensor) May 26, 2022
The massacre is just the latest in a grim tally of mass shootings in America. So far, there have been more mass shootings than there have been days in 2022.
Tuesday marked the deadliest school shooting since 2018, when 14 high school students and three adult staff were killed in Parkland, Florida, and the worst at a primary school since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, in which 20 children and six staff were killed.
“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” an angry and upset Joe Biden, the US president, asked in a national address. “Why do we keep letting this happen?”