My colleague Jack Healy is in Uvalde, Texas reporting on the school shooting that killed 19 children and two adults. He spoke to the families of the victims about their grief and anger over the police handling of the shooting.
I wanted to give you an idea of how the people of Uvalde deal with violence. So I called Jack.
What did you see when you arrived at Uvalde?
I arrived the next morning and started driving to the homes of the parents and grandparents of the children who had perished.
It is a predominantly Latin city. Many children lived in multigenerational households, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. These children lived next door or around the corner to family members, who often took them to school.
The next day, these family members began to gather to analyze what had happened – not even to make sense of it, but to try to understand the reality that 10-year-old children had been taken from them.
It does not mean anything.
Yeah. For many of them, it was like accepting the fact that the last day hadn’t been some kind of horrible dream.
The process of getting the news was also traumatic. Some families didn’t know for almost 12 hours. They were getting conflicting information from social media, from community members.
There were two girls named Eliana – one spelled Eliahana – who were killed. There was name confusion between the two for a minute that left them wondering which one was theirs or if theirs was really killed. It was chaos.
How has daily life been changed?
This shooting occurred days before what would have been the end of the school year. These kids were well on their way to summer vacation. They had an honor ceremony that day, and the parents were there, taking pictures of their children who were thrilled to get their certificates.
The shooting abruptly ended the school year. High school graduation ceremonies have been postponed.
People were also preparing for Memorial Day weekend. It is a beautiful country of hills and rivers. People were making plans for barbecues or floats on the river or going to a cabin or camping.
You’ve probably heard things that will stick in your memory for years.
I spoke with the grandfather of one of the girls who was killed, Eliahana Cruz Torres. He was her stepfather. He and his wife, Eliahana’s biological grandmother, had raised her since she was four. After moving in with them, Eliahana often slept between Grandma and Grandpa because she didn’t want to sleep alone. She squirmed in bed and asked him to tickle her feet. She said, “I love you, grandpa.”
He said he broke down when she first called him grandpa. It was one of the most touching and important things anyone had ever said to him.
There are 21 families across town telling stories like that now.
What do people do to help each other?
Unfortunately, there is a set playbook for charities when mass shootings occur. The Red Cross is there. Southern Baptist volunteers pray on street corners. Starbucks in San Antonio sent workers because so many Starbucks employees here had been affected and needed to be with their families.
There were also small acts of kindness: family members brought bottled water, toilet paper and food to people’s homes. Everyone knows they can’t solve this problem. But they do what they can. Often it’s just being present.
You wrote about the firearms debate in Uvalde. In past shootings, survivors and others affected have become involved in gun control activism. Did it happen there?
It’s a complicated question here. This is the South Texas countryside. Guns are woven into politics and culture. Some people in town support the reflexive Republican position of needing more “good guys with guns,” despite the many issues with the police response. A lot of families are fed up and think it’s unconscionable that an 18-year-old could buy two assault rifles. But it’s a quiet conversation.
Even from a distance, covering these stories is difficult. Just looking at pictures of these children breaks my heart. How do you approach your reporting from the field?
We don’t think enough as journalists, collectively, about what we’re doing to these communities.
The school district is full of TV trucks, SUVs and cars rented by journalists. There are blocks outside the school filled with tents where TV reporters do their thing. It sounds like a political convention.
Families receive constant calls and door knocks. Many of them want to share their stories and think it’s important for the world to see who their children were and what made them special. The first few times, people like it. But after the 20th person knocks on your door, it can become another wound.
I don’t know what the solution is. There is a lot of important journalism to be done on these issues, on these families and these children and the failures in response to the shooting. It’s really important to tell these stories.
Learn more about Jack Healy: He got his first full-time journalism job as an intern at The Times before joining full-time in 2008. He covered the war in Iraq and now works as a national correspondent based in Phoenix.