Father of Uvalde School Shooting Victim Says Daughter Was 'Excited' About Going to Junior High

Vincente Salazar III's daughter Layla Salazar was killed when a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday

Layla Salazar
Photo: Alexandra Fleming

As families and loved ones grieve the heartbreaking deaths of the 19 children and two adults who were killed at Robb Elementary School earlier this week, one father is opening up about the "super special" daughter he lost in the tragedy.

On Tuesday, an 18-year-old gunman crashed his car in a ditch near the school in Uvalde, Texas, then — after getting past law enforcement — entered a classroom and locked himself inside, killing 21 people.

Vincente Salazar III's daughter Layla Salazar was one of the victims.

In an interview with PEOPLE, Salazar III, 45 — along with his father, Layla's grandfather Vincente Salazar, Sr., 66 — opens up about Layla's kind heart, her sweet personality and the future she hoped for.

Layla Salazar
Alexandra Fleming

PEOPLE: Can you tell me about your daughter?
Vincente Salazar III: Let's see, where can I start? She was a firecracker. She's a lot of fun to be around. There's never a dull day with her. The sweetest girl. On Mother's Day, she sent a TikTok out to all the moms and wished them all a Happy Mother's Day. She said, "Even though you're not my mom, Happy Mother's Day."

She liked to dance to TikToks, she likes to swim. Her favorite thing, though, was running. She's pretty good at it. We had a field day recently. We've had three field days, and she came in first place in all her races: the 100-yard dash, a 75-yard dash, and 75-meter hurdles. But it was three, you know, three separate years. This was obviously the last year, but she never lost the race for first place every time. So we were really waiting for her to, you know, get to junior high, where she could get involved in track and all that because she was excited.

She was ready to go on to the next school because, in the next school, you get a locker. And she was ready for that. She's like, "Oh, this is what I'm gonna do with my locker," and this and that. And obviously, it didn't happen. But she was just special. So super special.

Did you have a nickname for your girl?
Vincente Salazar III: Well, I did. Her name is Layla, but I would call her Lulu. I don't know. I just, you know, she's small. And, that's just the name that me and her, you know, that I would always call her. And she would get embarrassed sometimes because she would be on the phone with her friends, and I'd call her Lulu. "That's not my name, Daddy." But when she's off the phone, she loved it. She just didn't want daddy to embarrass her.

RELATED VIDEO: Authorities Admit 'Wrong Decision' Not to Confront Gunman Sooner During Texas School Shooting

What did you see her becoming when she grew up?
Vincente Salazar, Sr.: When she was here with us, and we had Grandma and Grandpa, they're her great-great-grandma and grandpa, she would help them, pick up their feet and put them into the car and everything and help them to the cars and close the door for them. And give [them] a hug and a kiss goodbye. She loved everybody in the family. She was all heart.

Vincente Salazar III: She had a lot of love for everybody. She could have been anything really. I mean, if you look at some of her TikToks, it's almost like she's a reporter. She could have been. She could have been anything for sure. And obviously, a super-fast runner. You know, she was looking forward to that.

Can you talk about the day?
Vincente Salazar III: I got a text message early saying that the school was on lockdown. And then let's say maybe about 30 minutes later, I got another text message from school saying that there was an active shooter on campus. I was at home because I work nights, so I sleep during the day. And you know, when I got that text, I went to the school immediately, but there was just chaos everywhere. You couldn't get through, you couldn't do anything. And when I was there, I got another text saying pick up your child at the Civic Center. So I just left from there and went downtown to the Civic Center, and we waited there. And they told us that no children had been harmed. That's what they told us.

They who?
Vincente Salazar III: The faculty or whoever was there from the school, the superintendent. They told us that no children have been harmed. So we, you know, we're like okay, well who is being harmed because there's ambulance after ambulance after ambulance. They're not going to do that for one shooter if they knew he's dead. And they just did lie to us the whole day. The whole day. We were there from 1 o'clock in the afternoon to 11 o'clock at night. And we didn't get an answer from nobody about nothing. It wasn't until about 9 o'clock at night that they pulled everybody into the room and told us if you're still here, and you didn't get your child that, you know, there's this strong possibility that your child didn't make it.

All these hours had passed. Had you started to think of that possibility?
Vincente Salazar III: I knew it because when the state troopers got there, when we first got in there and stuff, I saw it in their faces. I saw it in their faces, just saw grown men crying and stuff. That tells you all you need to know. We've seen enough of these school shootings happen over the years, the school shootings that you just... you know, you just know, if you're the one there, your daughter, your son didn't get off that bus, you know.

Vincente Salazar, Sr.: We were sitting there when they told us no more children were coming. Me and my wife left. And we came out of the Civic Center and looked at where there was cameras all lined up. So we turned around and went the other way. And we made the front page, me and my wife, and my wife was crying and stuff. And we already knew in our hearts what had happened. All this time, they told us nothing but lies.

Layla Salazar
Alexandra Fleming

Vincente Salazar III: With all these shootings that happen, I think now you kind of can get a feeling as to what actually happens behind the scenes. You know, when you see these things on TV, you don't see all of that. But being a part of it... Now, I probably realized that, who knows how many times with these school shootings that these parents were told the same thing? You know what I mean? I don't know that it's happened. But I just know that it happened to all of us, not just me. All the families that were there with us. They were all lied to. They were all told the same thing. No, no children were harmed. No teachers were harmed. And it was a lie.

Vincente Salazar, Sr.: We have 19 babies that passed away. And they were all babies. There's no reason for this to happen these days in the United States, or anywhere in the world. Because they're innocent children, they couldn't protect themselves. And us as grandparents and parents — They wouldn't even let us into the school. We could've taken care of the situation. Because when you know that your child is in harm's way, you're going to protect your child. And we couldn't be there for them. I couldn't be there. She was our world. And it was destroyed.

Vincente Salazar III: It's just hard because one of the things, too, is we haven't gotten her back yet. Because they still have her over there because it was a mass shooting, a major crime scene. They have to do an autopsy and everything.

I thought everyone was returned?
Vincente Salazar III: No, no. No. See, that's that's the thing. You know, you hear so many things, but you find out they're not true. You just have to go over there and ask the people directly that they're the ones that tell you no, she's not here yet. Yes, there's children here but your child's not here yet. When she gets here, we'll notify you.

Where is she?
Vincente Salazar III: Still at the Bexar County — I think medical examiner's in San Antonio.

What would you like people to know?
Vincente Salazar III: I hope that my daughter's death doesn't go in vain. And her classmates, the children, the other children that passed away because we knew their families too, they're friends of ours. We just spent field day together. We all know each other, small town as it is. I've worked with some of these people. So we've stayed close because of the kids. And I just want everybody to know that.

When is enough gonna be enough? You know what I mean? I mean, how many more times does it have to keep happening? Something's got to be done. It just can't be nothing anymore. I'm not just saying that because it happened to my child, because it's happened to several families over these last years. So that's what I want everyone to know. I just don't want this to just go away. And nothing is ever done about it. You know, I'm saying because we're the ones that are left with the grief. Everybody else, they'll eventually go on with their lives and stuff, and we will too but we've had somebody taken away from us, and we can't get her back. And it's just, it's just hard. We need something to happen [from] this, so it doesn't happen to other families. That's the way I feel about it. Some type of action needs to happen. I don't know what it is but something.

The school district in Uvalde has opened an official account with First State Bank of Uvalde to support Robb Elementary families affected by the tragedy. People can send checks through the mail (payable to the "Robb School Memorial Fund") or donate money through Zelle to robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com. People can also donate by calling 830-356-2273.

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