It’s been a week since an armed gunman snuck into an elementary school in Uvalde, TX and opened fire on two classrooms, leaving 19 young children and two adults dead.
Now, the community is coming together to lay the young victims to rest. Each child is being remembered for their unique personality and the activities they enjoyed.
Artist Trey Ganem of SoulShine Industries based in Edna, TX, recently donated custom caskets to the families of the victims to help them honor a life lost too soon. Many families do not have enough money for funeral expenses, and they were more than grateful to receive the donation.
The Texas Funeral Directors Association reached out to Ganem the day after the shooting to see if he could donate his talents. He said he worked nonstop for a week with his 25-year-old son to finish the small caskets in time for the funerals. They also enlisted a small army of volunteers to sand, paint, and vanish the caskets.
“I think there were 17 at the time that he knew of, and [he] wanted to know if I would be able to help out and make sure that all these kids have, you know, some personalization,” Ganem said of the conversation.
As a trained craftsman, Ganem was the perfect candidate for the job.
“They know I deal with a lot of children and that I can make sure that things get done as far as doing customization and doing something special because this wasn’t your typical funeral arrangements,” Ganem, 50, told reporters.
Each one features an intricate design to commemorate the child and their interests. There’s one decorated with a softball, pictures of Spiderman, Superman, and even a casket designed after TikTok.
“We got to talk with the families and the funeral directors have helped us, and it’s just been wonderful to be able to know exactly what they wanted and [ensure] each one [is] personalized to that specific person,” Ganem said.
Ganem met with each of the families individually to discuss how the caskets should be designed.
“We don’t just put a vinyl wrap on top. We actually custom paint every single one. We take the casket completely apart, and we paint the hardware, we paint the bars,” Ganem said. “The class and the passion that we put into these is bar none.”
Each casket cost between $3,400 and $3,800 to make, Ganem said. He accepted a few donations but paid for nearly everything else out of pocket out of respect for the local community.
“I didn’t even think twice when I was asked to do it,” he added, “and God always takes care of us.”
Ganem said finishing the job was an emotional experience.
“Our emotions when we finished the last casket, we all just looked at each other and we started crying and when you’re hugging, it was like, ‘we did it and they all turned out beautiful.’ We did 19 caskets in three and a half days. But it was just a relief.”
Ganem has donated his services to the victims of other mass shootings in the past. He made custom caskets for those that died in the Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas mass shootings and for U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillén, who was murdered, as well as singers Christina Grimmie and Percy Sledge.
One of the caskets went to Eliahna Torres, a fourth grader who was killed in the shooting. Her casket features llamas, the TikTok logo, and neon slime.
Eliahna’s mother, Sandra Torres, helped Ganem design the casket based on her daughter’s interests.
“She would tell me that she needed glue for school because she had a big ole project to do, and the glue would be to make slime,” Sandra recalled. “She drove us crazy with the TikTok.”
Ganem said meeting with the parents gave them a chance to remember their son or daughter during this horrific time.
“When they’re telling me that their son or daughter loved baseball or softball or TikTok, they light up because now they’re remembering the good things and the fun times that they had when they were alive and here, and we incorporate all that into the caskets,” Ganem said.
The first funerals for the victims are being held today in Uvalde with more scheduled later this month up until June 13.
“We’re bringing light to this time,” he said. “When they start talking about a dinosaur holding a flashlight with a pickle, that’s gonna put a smile on your face. It’s kind of one of those things where we listen to what they have to say. We cry with them. We hug each other but, in the end, we make the most beautiful creation and the last resting bed for their loved ones.”