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Javier Rodriguez, 15, was a smiling, happy-go-lucky teen, friends and teachers recalled at an emotional memorial service this week.
Javier was shopping with his uncle Saturday in the Walmart in El Paso when he was shot and killed by the gunman, a white supremacist who killed 22 people in all. Javier’s uncle was also shot, and is still recovering in the hospital.
While there will be many memorials to come for those who died in Saturday’s tragedy — and a separate shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine — this was the first, and for its youngest victim.
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Javier’s classmates took turns on stage before a packed football stadium at Horizon High School, describing him as a sweet boy, a dedicated friend and a talented soccer player.
“With a small, simple smile or a flip of his hair, every time he looked up, he lit up the room,” recalled Adrian Barros, who taught Rodriguez at Ricardo Estrada Middle School in El Paso. “I still struggle to think about how Javier and all his youth, love, and passion for life are no longer with us.”
The somber memorial, interspersed with music performed by the high school orchestra and the release of several white doves, took a powerful turn when the local school superintendent, Juan Martinez, moved off his prepared remarks and begged for an end to violence.
“We do not deserve this. Javier did not deserve this,” Martinez cried. “We hope — truly and sincerely and with all my heart — that this will never, ever again repeat again anywhere, in any school in this country. No, not our children! Stop taking them away from us. No! Not one more!”
As Martinez continued, choking back sobs, many in the stadium could be heard sobbing along with him.
Listen to edited excerpts of Martinez’s speech in the player above.
William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
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