On Día de los Muertos, the Spanish celebration for the Day of the Dead, Catholics across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles gathered at local cemeteries to remember those who have died. 

This year, eighth grade students at St. Charles Borromeo School in North Hollywood chose to honor kids just like them — the 19 children and 2 teachers who were killed in last May’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

Over the course of two weeks, students created “ofrendas,” or “offerings” for each of the victims in Uvalde. In individual shoeboxes, they included the names and pictures of the children, and decorated the altars with small tokens they thought the children would enjoy, “like candies, cuties, juice boxes, toys, rosaries,” eighth grader Mason Gonzalez Diaz said. He and his classmates included traditional Día de los Muertos offerings as well, such as handmade flowers, pan de muertos (“bread of the dead”), and lights and candles. 

Since there were more than 19 students, the class also made small altars to represent the victims of school shootings in Sandy Hook, Columbine, Saugus High School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, West Nickel Mines Amish School, and Red Lake Senior School. 

The eighth graders displayed their altars at a vigil prayer service at San Fernando Mission Cemetery on Nov. 1. Auxiliary Bishop Marc Trudeau blessed the altar, along with six others, including an altar built by the Archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace in honor of victims of human trafficking, abortion, homelessness, and mental health struggles.

“It was an emotional experience for a lot of [the students],” said teacher Inga Klein. “As the projects — the poster, the altar — started to come together, the students…grew in sympathy and compassion for others. [They] connected with the humanity of strangers, and wanted to pour out their love and prayers for the friends and families of the victims.” 

Eighth graders stand in front of their “ofrendas” for Uvalde shooting victims. (Yannina Diaz)

Students had little class time to create their altars, completing most of the work at home or after school. 

“I enjoyed working on [my altar] even though it was sad,” Diaz said. “It was hard to see so many pictures of kids my age and younger… [but] I like that I was able to use my faith to honor their souls in such a special way.” 

“It is so important for us to remember the past so that we learn from it,” said Klein. “We honor the lives of those lost by remembering them, and being agents of love, peace, friendship…and positive change for future generations.”