They were exchanging notes with each other within weeks of meeting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Trigger warning: This story contains themes of gun violence that some readers may find distressing
There's nothing quite like experiencing love for the first time, and for Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, it was when she met her fourth-grade classmate, Xavier James Lopez. The 10-year-olds were smitten with each other and everyone at school, including their teacher, knew they were in love. Both of them were tragically killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The two children will be buried this week at Hillcrest Cemetery in Uvalde. Their mothers, Monica Gallegos and Felicha Martinez, said the 10-year-olds will be buried side by side. Arnulfo Reyes, their teacher, was one of the survivors of the shooting that took the lives of 19 children and two teachers. All 11 children in his class in room 111 were killed, including Xavier and Annabell, reported ABC News. Recalling their love story, Reyes said, "He would make things for her, he would write notes for her. It brings a smile to your face just to think they really loved each other."
Annabell liked Xavier after meeting him on the very first day of school. She returned home and told her mom about a boy who smelled and dressed "really nice." Gallegos recalled, "She had this big old crush on him." Within weeks of joining the school, the pair was exchanging written notes and hanging out with each other. When their families got together on weekend barbecues, Annabell and Xavier would be busy playing tag. As time went by, they got really close. Their mothers found that they were texting each other "I love you" at bedtime. The parents found it funny. "Me and Felicha would laugh, like, 'How do y'all know about love?'" said Gallegos.
While Annabell doesn't remember it, she had met Xavier when they were toddlers. For a brief while, her grandfather and great-grandmother lived at a trailer park in Uvalde close to where Xavier lived and they often played outside together. Martinez gifted Annabell a picture of Xavier that she always strung around her neck. Xavier was an avid baseball fan and also played in the little league games and Annabell would always be in attendance, donning the picture of Xavier. On May 24, the fateful morning, Annabell and Xavier had made the honor roll and posed for pictures with each other. It was the first time for Xavier, whose mom joked that it was Annabell who inspired him to work harder. Martinez took a photo of the pair before they headed back to class. It would be the last photo of the two as a gunman walked into the school an hour later and opened fire.
Their parents were left devastated after losing their children. "I'm not ready," said Gallegos, as she prepared for her daughter's funeral. Xavier had a custom-designed casket featuring a Toronto Blue Jays logo, the name of his little league team. His grandmother Amelia Sandoval said Xavier was full of life and recalled him being a prankster and someone who loved to dance Cumbia. She added that he learned to make his father's signature hot salsas before selling them to friends and family. He used the money to buy toys and other gifts for his little brothers. Annabell lived with her mom, her two sisters, her pet chihuahua, Bailey, and her grandmother, Lucy Gallegos. Her family sold hot dogs by the banks of the Nueces and Frio rivers. Annabell handled the snow cone machine. She spent her evenings painting her grandmother's nails and braiding her hair. She was also a gymnast and dreamt of becoming a veterinarian.
Their teacher Reyes said he would never forgive the cops for refusing to engage with the shooter. It would be a whole 77 minutes from the time the gunman entered the school until officers barged in and killed him. "They're cowards," said Reyes, reported ABC News. "They sit there and did nothing for our community. They took a long time to go in… I will never forgive them." He also vouched to fight for gun control. "The only thing that I know is that I won't let these children and my co-workers die in vain," he said. "I will go to the end of the world to make sure things get changed. If that's what I have to do for the rest of my life, I will do it."
Loved ones have also started GoFundMe campaigns for Annabell and Xavier to help cover their funeral and therapy costs.
Cover image credit: GoFundMe
If you're struggling to cope with grief, and need help, please reach out to Crisis response at 1-800-203-CARE (2273)