A Brownsville florist makes flower arrangements for the victims of the Uvalde school shooting
Carey Jo Alfaro-Luna had not heard of the mass shooting at a primary school in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead on the day it happened on May 24.
Alfaro-Luna, a teacher at the Brownsville school, found out about it a day later while talking to her father, and he asked her about it. She was returning from Edinburgh for medical treatment, she recalls. She started reading the reports about the school shooting.
An 18-year-old man armed with an assault rifle entered Robb Elementary School and shot and killed the children and their teachers. Several others were injured.
Carey Jo said she had trouble sleeping that night. She wanted to help the Uvalde community and prayed for what she could do, she said. “Usually when that happens, I know it’s kind of like a call,” for me to pray.
The next day, she called The Flower Patch flower and gift shop in Uvalde to offer her services as Carey Jo is a florist herself.
“The first thing that came to mind was 22 funeral coffin arrangements,” she said, including the husband of one of the teachers who died two days later of a heart attack.
Carey Jo sent photos of arrangements she had made in the past and the owner told her she would appreciate the help. She told her manager that she had volunteered to help at Uvalde.
“I just felt that was what I had to do. I’m a soldier, a retired soldier, so my motto is here to serve,” Carey Jo said.
Carey Jo and her husband Miguel loaded up their vehicle and drove towards Uvalde. Carey Jo called his son, Mr. Seth Sweatt, who lives in Arkansas and told him what they were going to do, and he wanted to help too. Sweatt is also a veteran. He drove 11 hours to be able to help. “That’s how I raised my kids, stepping in when someone needs it,” she said.
Carey Jo helped make flower arrangements for the children and the teacher and started to get emotional because she had already taught in elementary school. She estimates she made 10-12 arrangements while she was there.
“I was okay with that until you started getting requests for the same person, and then you started getting to know that person,” because people would tell you what that person liked, a- she said.
She was told that 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez liked the color lime green and the person ordering the arrangement asked if the color could be included.
“That’s when it started to sink in,” Carey Jo said.
As arrangements were made, it became more difficult, she said. “It was tough when I spoke to the manager because I know she blames herself. It was tough. I didn’t have time to go around and do what I know what I have to do and cry,” she said, trying to hold back tears.
Carey Jo said she and other florists work eight-hour days to make the arrangements, and most florists do the arrangements standing up. They were told to use whatever flowers they wanted because they had been given away.
There were lilies, daisies, roses and other types of flowers. They used lime green, purple, yellow, red and blue ribbons.
While Carey Jo and the others made the flower arrangements, Miguel and Seth would drive around Uvalde and deliver them, she said. They would also help clear the area.
Carey Jo and her family helped out for about two days and then went home to return to work.
She never imagined she would help make funeral flower arrangements for the children and teachers killed in a mass shooting.
“By the time we got home it was hard and it still is hard,” she said, adding that it’s something she will never forget.
She said the people of Uvalde will need time to recover from this tragedy and it could take a long time. The florist she worked for said she had flower arrangement orders through June 14.
“There will have to be something positive to come out of it. I don’t know what it is right now, they were babies,” she said, wiping away a tear.
Reflecting on what happened at Uvalde, Carey Jo thinks if the 18-year-old’s parents had been more involved in his life, they might have seen the warning signs of a troubled teenager. “I call it negligence. I call it neglectful parenting.
Carey Jo, who served in both the US Air Force and the US Army and flew several combat missions, said gun control was not the answer. “Do we need more restrictive laws on how a gun can get into someone’s hands, yes we need older age, we need background checks,” he said. she declared.
“This boy fell through the cracks. The signs were all there,” Carey Jo said.