By SEAN DIETRICH
Nineteen kids came romping up the golden staircase, taking two steps at a time, sprinting toward the mother-of-pearl gates. It’s a wonder they didn’t knock Saint Peter over onto his Blessed Assurance.
The children all smelled like little-kid sweat and stinky feet. Their loud footsteps could be heard echoing from as far away as the Andromeda Galaxy.
The children were accompanied by two teachers.
“Slow down!” yelled Ms. Garcia, 48, who headed up the rear of the class.
Ms. Garcia taught at Robb Elementary School for 23 years. She died using her body to shield her students from gunfire. She was found with students still cradled in her arms. Two days after the attacks, her grief-stricken husband passed from a massive heart attack.
“No pushing!” hollered Ms. Mireles, 44, who was close beside Ms. Garcia. “I’m not gonna tell you twice!”
Ms. Mireles taught fourth grade. She was trained in special education. She taught for 17 years. Her children idolized her. She was the woman responsible for integrating students with developmental disabilities into regular classrooms at Robb. She, too, leapt in front of gunfire for her students.
The children’s voices were loud. They brought so much energy into this celestial place that crowds of seraphim began to gather at the gates until their feathers ruffled.
“The kids from Uvalde, Texas, are here,” the angels were murmuring among themselves.
Everyone up here has been expecting these tiny celebrities, of course. These kids have been on everybody’s minds. The Boss himself is a huge fan of these kids. They say he has been waiting at the gate for their triumphant arrival since about 3,000,000 B.C.
And here they came.
The doors opened. Their little faces burst through the hallway of life into life everlasting. And all eternity cheered. It was an immortal roar so loud it shook planets from their orbits and knocked the rings off Saturn.
Among the new arrivals was Jose Flores, 10. Jose is a baseball lover. He had just received an honor-roll certificate a few hours before the shooting.
There was Uziyah Garcia, 9. Uziyah is crazy about football. He can catch any pass you throw at him.
Amerie Jo Garza, she turned 10 a few weeks ago. She is a jokester and loves art. She, too, was on the honor roll.
Xavier Lopez, 10, known for his sense of humor. He loves dancing. Before the shooting, he was looking forward to school letting out for summer so he could go swimming.
Annabell Rodriguez, 10, and Jackie Cazares, 10. They’re cousins. They’re the ones holding hands.
Rojelio Torres, 10. He’s a whip-smart little boy. His face could light up entire continents.
Eliahana Torres, 10. A softball phenom. She was looking forward to playing in the final softball game of her season on Monday.
Jailah Silguero, 10. She loves making videos for her friends. The night before the shooting, she said she didn’t want to go to school the next day.
Jayce Luevanos, 10. Before he died, every morning he would wake up and make his grandparents a pot of coffee. The family dog was obsessed with him.
Ellie Garcia, 9. Her favorite colors are pink and purple. She enjoys cooking and makes a mean chalupa.
Nevaeh Bravo, 10. Her name is “heaven” spelled backward. This place was made for her.
Lexie Rubio, 10, loves sports. She received a good-citizen award shortly before the shooting. She wanted to become a lawyer someday.
Makenna Elrod, 10. Blonde. Loves gymnastics, dancing, and singing. Wild about animals.
Alithia Ramierz, 10, enjoys art, and is very good at painting. A ray of sunlight in a dark world.
Layla Salazar, 10. Each morning when her father drove her to school in his pickup, he played “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on the radio. Layla knew all the words.
Tess Mata, 10, was saving up a container of her dollar bills for the family’s upcoming trip to Disney World.
When the Boss saw them he called their names. Each one of them. His voice was so loud that time was halted and mountains crumbled. The kids ran straight for him.
He squatted low and threw his arms open. Nineteen 9-and-10-year-olds piled straight into him and plowed him over. They crawled all over him. His laughter was thunder. His tears were hurricanes. His joy burned brighter than the sun itself. His sorrow was the Arctic Ocean.
“Welcome home,” he said, and his words split the foundations of heaven and earth in two.
This world just won’t be the same without them.