Family mourns news that Pharr churchgoer among school shooting victims

The pastor of a Baptist church in Pharr called Cynthia Tisdale, his sister-in-law and one of the 10 victims killed in Friday’s Santa Fe High School shooting, a kind and caring woman who worked two jobs to help pay for her terminally ill husband’s medical expenses.

After hours of awaiting word on her safety, John Tisdale, 68, of Anchor Bible Baptist Church in Pharr, said he learned about Cynthia Tisdale’s death from his nephew and her son, William Recie Tisdale Jr., at about 5 p.m. He and several family members had tried reaching Cynthia Tisdale upon learning of the shooting to no avail, listening to various news reports for any details of the victims in hopes that her name was not among those who lost their lives in yet another school shooting.

“All during the day we were concerned,” John Tisdale said. “I was trying to get reports on whether she had been located or not. You got faith that they’ll find her somewhere, and that perhaps she was one of the ones who was wounded and taken to local hospitals, but when it’s evident it could be her you’re just living on hope. Then it became apparent that she was one of the two teachers that had died.”

Cynthia Tisdale left behind her husband, William Recie Tisdale, 67, and their four children and several grandchildren on Friday, when Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, opened fire inside the high school’s classrooms, according to authorities. The teenage suspect is believed to have used a shotgun and handgun during the shooting.

She was in her 60s at the time of her death and had planned to retire in the Rio Grande Valley with her husband, who is battling what his brother, John Tisdale, described as an incurable lung disease. In fact, John Tisdale said she worked nights as a server at a local restaurant to help cover medical costs.

“Since my brother has been very ill the last couple of years, she was a very excellent caregiver and she worked two jobs for extra income to help,” John Tisdale said. “She worked at the school and a second job as a server at night at an Italian restaurant chain.”

Now the Tisdales, Valley-area family members and churchgoers at Anchor Bible Baptist Church — where Cynthia and William Recie Tisdale were members — are mourning the death of a woman known for her friendly demeanor and gentle nature.

“Cynthia is a very kindhearted person,” John Tisdale said of his sister-in-law. “She was looking forward to retiring and just being a full-time granny or grandmother. She was really attached and close to her children and grandchildren, and that was really her life and joy.”

Her stepdaughter, Shannon McCoy, a secretary at First Baptist Church of McAllen, began posting on the church Facebook page’s timeline around midmorning that Cynthia Tisdale had not gotten in touch with her. McCoy also asked for prayers in another post before announcing on the church’s page that Cynthia Tisdale was indeed among the victims killed in the shooting.

“My stepmother, Cynthia Tisdale was the substitute teacher that was killed today in Santa Fe,” McCoy wrote on the church’s Facebook page. “We are on our way to Houston. Please remember the family during this very difficult time. I know today didn’t catch God by surprise. He is still in control. I am praising Him on credit for the way He will be glorified through this senseless mess.”

McCoy’s adopted sister, Patricia Rosser, 35, of Pharr, remembered Cynthia Tisdale as “a good mother, a good wife and a good person” whose loss has left her and the family in a state of shock.

The McAllen school district teacher has worked in special education for 13 years and called the shooting “beyond ridiculous,” further noting the fear instilled in teachers and students when having to prepare for such scenarios.

“Me being a teacher, anytime this comes up I cry, because it’s profound that students live in an age of terror where they have to do drills and duck and cover,” Rosser said Friday evening. “So when I saw the news today I cried as a teacher, and then to find out later in the day that it was a family member who had been killed, it was just like extra shock.

“Year by year it’s getting worse and worse. Where we have to do drills, where our poor children have to duck and cover, and every time it really hits me emotionally because I have my own son. I just don’t feel that’s right. School should be a safe haven, so it breaks my heart as a mother, as a teacher, as a woman.”

In this image taken from video law enforcement officers respond to a high school near Houston after an active shooter was reported on campus, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. The Santa Fe school district issued an alert Friday morning saying Santa Fe High School has been placed on lockdown. (KTRK-TV ABC13 via AP)

Trepidation for those who knew her was also prevalent on social media throughout the day Friday. John Tisdale and his wife Pamela Tisdale were active on social media during that time, asking for prayers and support as they waited to hear news about their sister-in-law.

As it turns out, it was Cynthia Tisdale’s own son, a detective at a local law enforcement agency in the area, who was called to the scene and had to identify her body as well as notify family members of her death, according to Rosser and John Tisdale.

“The sad part of it is her son from my sister’s half-brother is affiliated with the local law enforcement there, and his daughter attended school at Santa Fe High School,” Rosser said. “When they received reports at 8 a.m., he immediately responded and dispatched to the reunification center they had there, and it wasn’t until 3 p.m. that they were looking at bodies and discovered that one of the victims was indeed his mother. … It was just incredibly senseless. I don’t know what the motivations were or anything like that, but enough is enough.”

Cynthia Tisdale’s niece, Leia Olinde, said Tisdale was like a mother to her and helped her shop for wedding dresses last year.

“She helped me put it on, she helped fix my hair,” Olinde, 25, said through tears. “She was wonderful. She was just so loving. I’ve never met a woman who loved her family so much.”

She said Cynthia Tisdale was married to her husband for close to 40 years.

Cynthia Tisdale’s house was the center for family gatherings, and she loved cooking Thanksgiving dinner and decorating her house, Olinde said.

Olinde’s fiancé, Eric Sanders, said of Cynthia Tisdale that “words don’t explain her lust for life and the joy she got from helping people.”

For John Tisdale, he also remembers his sister-in-law for her faith, adding, “She was a believer in the Lord Jesus, and we know where she is right now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.