Andres “June” Ybarra can’t sleep and says he feels like a zombie.

Once you know where he lives — and the two key roles he plays in his community — no further explanation is necessary.

One of Ybarra’s roles is serving as Grand Knight of Council 3245 of the Knights of Columbus at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Texas, a parish that has been at the forefront of efforts to help the traumatized community of 16,000 people cope with the shooting deaths of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on May 24. Eleven of the victims were parishioners of Sacred Heart. This past week, the Knights provided hamburgers for participants at a candlelight vigil held Thursday night.

His other role: working as a mortician at a local funeral home that has prepared the bodies and organized funeral arrangements for 16 of the 21 victims.

“It's the hardest thing I've ever seen, the hardest thing I've ever seen,” Ybarra told CNA on June 2. “I never ever thought something like this would happen in Uvalde.” 

One of the funerals Ybarra helped arrange was for his second cousin, 50-year-old Joe Garcia. Joe’s wife, Irma Garcia, was one of the teachers who was killed. Joe died of a heart attack two days later. The couple, who were high school sweethearts, shared a funeral Mass at Sacred Heart on June 1.

Ybarra, 58, said that he was in shock to hear the news of his cousin’s death, but said that God’s grace gave him the strength to do his job and “be strong for the families.”

Andres ‘June’ Ybarra, right, and his wife, Isabel. He said he has to stay strong while doing his job as a mortician preparing the bodies and funerals of victims of the shooting spree in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, but admits he “breaks down” when he’s at home with his family. Courtesy of Andres Ybarra
Andres ‘June’ Ybarra, right, and his wife, Isabel. He said he has to stay strong while doing his job as a mortician preparing the bodies and funerals of victims of the shooting spree in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, but admits he “breaks down” when he’s at home with his family. Courtesy of Andres Ybarra

Preparing the bodies and funerals of young children is particularly difficult, “especially when you have children at home or grandkids at home the same age,” he said. He manages to maintain his composure while he's busy at work, he said, but his emotions come out when he's home around his wife Isabel and their three children and nine grandchildren.

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“If you don't have a relationship with God, there's no way you can handle something like this,” he said. He added that he prays throughout the day in his work, and is devoted to the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the rosary.

Ybarra is one of four morticians at Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary, located less than a mile from Robb Elementary. Overwhelmed in the aftermath of the mass shooting, the funeral home has received help from about 30 people from across the country, he said.

“They were here the next day,” he said.

A mortician for 32 years, Ybarra actually retired years ago, but he felt the urge to come back to work 11 months ago. 

Now he knows why.

“God,” he said, “brought me back for this.”