Uvalde family grateful for help from Elgin community

‘We thought it would be safer in a small town,’ says Vinnie Salazar, whose 11-year-old daughter was killed in the May 24 Robb Elementary School shooting

Elgin resident Yolanda Alejandro holds a collage of photos of her niece, Layla Salazar, as she poses with other family members at a fundraiser Friday at Mi Vallarta restaurant in South Elgin. The fundraiser is intended to help Layla's parents, Vinnie and Melinda Salazar, who moved from Elgin to Uvalde, Texas, in 2011.

When Vinnie and Melinda Salazar moved from Elgin to Texas for a new start in 2011, their daughter, Layla, was just 7 months old.

Vinnie had been laid off from his job, and his parents recently returned to Texas after living in Elgin. Moving back to Uvalde — a quiet community where he lived until he was 10 years old — made sense.

“We thought it would be safer in a small town,” Vinnie Salazar said in a phone interview Friday, adding that nothing major usually happened there.

Roselle resident Esteban Peralez is planning a fundraiser to benefit Vincent Salazar and his family, who moved from Elgin to Texas in 2011. Salazar's daughter, Layla, 10, was among the 19 students killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, during the mass shooting Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Salazar and his family will lay their 11-year-old daughter to rest on Thursday. Layla is one of the 19 schoolchildren killed in the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, the same school her father attended as a child. Two teachers also were killed in the shooting.

“She was a beautiful child,” said Layla’s grandfather Vincent Salazar. “She was an angel before she became an angel in reality.”

On Friday evening, numerous friends and family gathered at Mi Vallarta in South Elgin for a fundraiser to benefit Layla’s family. Esteban Peralez, who attended Larkin High School with Layla’s father, organized the events after learning about Layla’s death through a social media post from her father.  

Elgin resident Yolanda Alejandro, whose sister, Melinda, is Layla’s mother. was among those who attended Friday’s fundraiser.

“I loved my niece. I’m glad there’s a lot of people that are supporting them and who loved Layla,” she said.

Though Vinnie Salazar and his wife left Elgin in 2011, they still have numerous relatives and friends in the area.

“We’ve been gone 11 years,” Vinnie Salazar said Friday, just hours before the fundraiser. “It just goes to show you that, no matter how long you’ve been gone, the people who care about you still care about you.”

Vinnie Salazar and his father say Layla was a special girl who enjoyed making Tik Tok videos and competing in track and field. For Mother’s and Father’s Day, she would write her parents special notes and make videos wishing all mothers and fathers a happy holiday.

Layla’s grandfather encouraged those at the fundraiser to watch the video she made for Mother’s Day.

“Listen to that, and you will understand who my granddaughter was,” he said.

Vincent Salazar also reminded people to cherish what they have.

“Please hug your babies because tomorrow, we never know ... and it’s the worst feeling in the world,” he said.

Vinnie Salazar said the support of relatives is helping his family through this difficult time.

“We’ve got a great support system, and everyone is really helping,” he said. “The way everyone has come together ... it’s definitely helped.”

Family members have been focused on dealing with their tragic loss and planning a funeral for a life gone too soon.

“We’re holding together,” said Vincent Salazar. “You feel mad for what happened ... but she’s in God’s hands now, and there isn’t much you can do ... we can’t bring her back.”

On Saturday, March for Our Lives, a national group born out of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, will hold rallies across the nation calling for an end to gun violence. And though Vinnie Salazar isn’t quite ready to talk about an issue he described as a “never-ending fight,” he holds out hope that something will change to bring an end to the type of violence that took his daughter’s life.

“It feels different this time,” he said Friday. I don’t know if it’s just because it happened to us ... but I feel that people are kind of fed up with this.”

For now, though, he and his family are grateful for the support from friends near and far.

“It’s not about what they’re going to raise,” he said. “It’s more about the fact that people are supporting us. That’s all that matters.”

A GoFundMe account set up to help the Salazar family has collected more than $127,000 in donations. To find the GoFundMe account, search for “Layla Salazar our Angel in Heaven.”