MINNEAPOLIS – Virginia Vela watched her son, 10-year-old Jordan Olivarez, laugh on the sideline at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Her eyes glistened with tears, but Virginia's smile mirrored Jordan's. Mother and son wore matching purple 29 jerseys, Kris Boyd, as well.
It's been almost 7 months since she's seen Jordan comfortably wander a few feet away from her in public. Since he's been secure in his surroundings.
Jordan is a student at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas; he was in one of the classrooms invaded on May 24 by an 18-year-old gunman who tragically murdered 19 children and two teachers. Virginia works as an EMT and was one of the first responders to the school that day.
Though Boyd was in Minnesota for OTAs at the time, the Texas native was rocked to the core by the horrific, senseless tragedy.
"These are children, man," Boyd said this spring. "I was devastated."
Boyd grew up in Gilmer, Texas, more than seven hours from Uvalde, and later played football at the University of Texas, which is about a 3-hour drive from Robb Elementary.
The 25-year-old responded soon after the shooting by creating a GoFundMe and raising more than $30,000 that went directly to help the families affected.
But Boyd wanted to do more.
So this past week, he invited Virginia and Jordan, along with three other family members, to Minnesota as his special guests. They attended the Vikings Friday practice, after which they were introduced to the team by Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell; Jordan had the opportunity to break down the post-practice huddle, and they received yet another surprise:
Thanks to the Vikings, Jordan and Virginia will be attending Super Bowl LVII in February 2023.
"I was just speechless at that point," laughed Jordan. "I didn't even know what to say."
Jordan and his whole family received Boyd jerseys and full-sized footballs that were signed by the Vikings Friday.
"I know I'm missing one autograph," a smiling Jordan said as he waited patiently for Adam Thielen to finish running extra routes.
Boyd took the family shopping at the Vikings Locker Room Store, and they went to the Wild game – Boyd's first – together that evening. He would have joined them for the Timberwolves-Thunder game Saturday night had he not had team meetings.
And on Sunday, the family watched Boyd and the Vikings eke out a 27-22 win over the Jets. It didn't quite live up to Jordan's 73-20 prediction, but he and Boyd agree – a win is a win.
The entire weekend was a special gift, to be sure.
But for Jordan and Virginia, it's more than that. It's a reminder there is still good in this world. Amid the darkness, there is still light.
"Back at home, he doesn't trust anybody. Anywhere we go, he's trying to watch our backs," Virginia said. "If he sees something weird or hears something off, he's looking for me and his sister, to see where we're at, and trying to protect us. Back at home, he thinks there's no good out there. So being way out here in Minnesota, it's helped him a lot."
"He was able to sleep. He hasn't been sleeping good, and out here, he rested," she continued. "He was walking away from us at the team facility … He was on his own … It looked like he was comfortable. It looked like he was feeling that he was safe.
"I'm hoping he sees that, you know what, it's just something we're going to have to push through. There's still a lot of great out there."
What Virginia and Jordan underwent that day is unimaginable.
Among the children shot in Jordan's classroom was his cousin, Kendall. Upon realizing Kendall was still alive and fighting to breathe beneath their teacher who had been killed, Jordan and another student left their hiding places to pull her to safety. Kendall is fully recovered and doing well.
Jordan is a gentle soul. He's easily startled, Virginia noted, and has always had a fear of thunder. And yet he displayed tremendous bravery and heroism under terrifying conditions.
And then there's Virginia, who treated injured children outside of the school without knowing whether Jordan was hurt or had been killed.
"When I didn't have a student in my hands that day, I would walk into an ambulance and get on my knees and pray. I asked God to keep Jordan with me," Virginia said. "I prayed for strength in me to be able to help and be prepared. I prayed for my co-workers and everybody that day, that He would help us through."
"I was just asking God to prepare me," she continued. "I started seeing kids coming into my ambulance, and I realized they were from his classroom. I asked if they knew where Jordan was, and they said he was in there, but they didn't know if he was OK.
"Honestly, I couldn't feel my legs. I don't even know how I did my job. But I knew those kids needed me," Virginia added. "When I stepped out of the ambulance and saw my son running out of the building with an officer – that feeling runs through me every single day."
View photos of CB Kris Boyd as he hosts Uvalde Survivor, Jordan Olivarez and his family for the Week 13 game vs. the Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium.
How does one heal from such a traumatic experience? Virginia knows it will take time. But she and Jordan are taking it day by day, step by step.
Boyd is helping them take those steps.
"I don't even know what to say. It was amazing, the whole experience. I told them this is probably one of the best weekends I've ever had," he said. "Seeing the smile on Jordan's face made me happy. Bringing him joy was the whole goal."
The 25-year-old connected with the family before and after Sunday's game. Saying good-bye was difficult, but Boyd is confident they'll stay in touch.
"We exchanged numbers and are keeping in contact. … They already were sending me videos they had from the game," he said, smiling. "We also plan on going hunting after the season, because I've never been. They're from Texas, I'm from Texas, so we'll get together."
This weekend marked Virginia and Jordan's first time in Minnesota, first NFL game in-person and first snowball fight, which they laughed their way through on a deck outside TCO Performance Center Friday.
The weekend also signifies hope.
"With what happened back in Uvalde, I was very scared of what my son was going to think about the future – if he's going to think there is a future," Virginia said. "But this experience, he knows that he has a lot to look forward to. Something great."
Jordan wants to play in the NFL, he's told Virginia.
"He even wrote a letter to his youth coach about it," she said. "I asked him why, and he said because when he's a professional, he's gonna get a lot of money, and with that money he can help kids. He wants kids to look up to him the way he does to do these players – which is amazing. It does mean so much to me, Kris, because he is that person.
"I'm hoping if my son pursues this, he is going to do this for someone. He's going to know what it is, first-hand experience what it felt like for someone like Kris to do this for him," Virginia added. "When a player, no matter what team, does something like this – not just for us, but for any kids – it does something good to my heart. It's amazing."
When Boyd initially FaceTimed Jordan and invited him and his family to Minnesota, he knew it would be fun. He couldn't quite imagine the impact a three-day visit would have, though – on everyone involved.
"Doing this little bit, it meant a lot to me," Boyd said. "It brings some comfort to me … It brings me a lot of joy to know I'm helping someone who's dealing with such a tragedy."
As you can imagine, Virginia knows all too well the feeling of racing adrenaline and an increased heartrate.
But this time, she's feeling those things for all the right reasons.
"It's amazing. I'm crying. My heart has not stopped pounding," Virginia said. "I'm very grateful to Kris for doing this for my son. It's very much needed with the flashbacks and things he experiences.
"When [counselors] tell him, 'Hey, go to your safe place, your good memory,' this is going to be it. Definitely," she added with a smile. "We're Vikings fans now. We're Kris Boyd fans."