A very welcomed presidential landing right across the street

As President Biden’s motorcade zoomed past Mario and Agnes Quintanilla’s longtime Uvalde home Sunday, she snapped pictures from their front lawn while he waved a big homemade sign reading, “President Biden thank you for your support!”

Lining the street before them were 21 American flags they’d planted in the ground, one for each of the 19 students and two teachers who were killed by a gunman at their 9-year-old granddaughter’s elementary school last week, some of them their granddaughter’s friends.

The couple have lived directly across the street from Garner Field — Uvalde’s local airfield and the arrival and departure point for Biden’s Marine One helicopter — for 26 years, they said. Never have they been so appreciative of someone landing there.

“I’m really glad he came,” Mario Quintanilla said. “Really, really glad.”

“This is history for us,” Agnes Quintanilla said.

While many in Uvalde expressed gratitude for President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden’s visit to town, few were as emphatically supportive as the Quintanillas, who watched the president’s helicopter arrive and followed him around town for much of the day before cheering his arrival back at Garner Field.

They wanted him to know his visit to their hometown, after such a devastating attack, was deeply appreciated.

Less than half an hour before the shooting, Agnes Quintanilla was with her daughter and granddaughter at Robb Elementary School, she said, for an awards ceremony in which her granddaughter was receiving an arts award. After the ceremony, their granddaughter’s teacher said they could just take her home with them for the day, so they did.

Before they even got home, the teacher was calling them, warning of a man outside with a gun, Agnes Quintanilla said. As the horrific details of the incident became clearer, she couldn’t stop thinking: “What if we hadn’t taken my granddaughter home with us? What if she had been there?”

The thought had been all consuming for days, she said — until they heard the Bidens were coming and started getting ready.

“Uvalde Strong,” read one sign wired to a tree out front.

“Welcome President Biden,” read another, attached to a traffic cone at the end of their driveway.

Mario Quintanilla, 68, who owns an electric company in town, said he often votes for Democrats, but sometimes for Republicans. He thinks the two political camps should work together more often.

He likes Biden because he thinks he is “compassionate” and “open-minded” and wants what is best for the country, politics aside.

And he is hopeful that Biden can somehow nudge Texas toward enacting more gun control measures, he said — even if it means giving up some of his own guns, particularly the assault rifle he bought to use on the family’s ranch outside of town.

“Semiautomatic rifles? I don’t think that should be given to the public — including myself,” he said.

Quintanilla said the more he has thought about what happened, the more it doesn’t make sense that people, including teenagers like the gunman at Robb Elementary, should be able to buy such rifles, which he said can shoot so many rounds so quickly that they are as dangerous as grenades.

“A grenade is gonna do the same thing,” he said. “Are they going to go out and start selling grenades to 18-year-olds?”

Republican leaders in the state have just gone too far with gun rights, sending Texas “back to the old western days,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

And so, with Biden coming — a president he sees as having the power to work for compromise — he was out in the frontyard, waving his sign and smiling as his wife took pictures.

All their Republican friends in town might look askance at their enthusiasm, Agnes Quintanilla said, but that won’t bother her much. It has never stopped her from sharing her blue politics in this red city before, she said.

“At the end of the day, we’re still friends,” she said. “Everybody has a voice here in Uvalde.”