Joe Garcia had been married to his high school sweetheart, Irma Garcia, for 24 years before she was gunned down Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
“I don’t even know how to feel. I don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it” that Joe Garcia had passed away, said John Martinez, Irma Garcia’s nephew.
Irma Garcia and co-teacher Eva Mireles were killed along with 19 children at the school about 85 miles west of San Antonio.
Her son Christian Garcia said a friend in law enforcement who was at the scene saw his mother shielding students during the rampage.
Martinez said he was told that Joe Garcia “went to go deliver flowers for Irma at the memorial for her."
"When he got home, he was at home for no more than three minutes after sitting down on a chair with the family. He just fell over. They tried doing chest compressions, and nothing worked. The ambulance came, and they couldn’t, they couldn’t bring them back.”
Martinez said he learned the news from his younger brother.
“He called me and he said, like, ‘Please pray for Joe.’ That’s all he told me," Martinez said. "And I said, 'What happened?' And he was like: 'I don’t know. We don’t know yet.' And then I get a call, I think no more than 30 minutes later, with him crying and saying he didn’t make it.”
Doctors described it as a potential example of "broken heart syndrome," formally known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which generally occurs in response to extreme stressors like the sudden death of a spouse. Unlike people who have standard heart attacks, which are caused by blocked arteries, people with broken heart syndrome release bursts of stress hormones that prevent their hearts from contracting properly.
“It’s a classic case of broken heart syndrome from what’s been described,” said Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Bhatt said it’s impossible to know for sure whether Garcia experienced a standard heart attack or broken heart syndrome without X-ray imaging or an autopsy.
“Either type of heart attack can be triggered by extreme emotional stress of the sort that would happen if someone just heard, for example, that their wife had died,” Bhatt said.
Broken heart syndrome typically occurs immediately after a person has received horrific news, he added. But some people may take time to emotionally process losses, meaning broken heart syndrome wouldn’t occur right away.
“In some cases, it might be a day later. It might be when someone realizes: ‘Oh, wow, my loved one actually is dead. They’re really not coming back,’” Bhatt said.
“It sounds like that’s what happened” in this case, he said.