Days after a local man burst into an elementary school and killed 19 children and two teachers before police managed to kill him, the signs of grief, solidarity and local pride are everywhere in Uvalde.
Many wear brown, the color of the Uvalde school district. And light blue ribbons adorn the giant oak trees that shade the town’s central square, where mourners come to lay flowers around a fountain and write messages on wooden crosses that bear the names of the victims. In front of a nativity scene in one of the main streets of the city, 21 wooden chairs are empty.
In this predominantly Latino town of around 16,000, everyone seems to know someone whose life was turned upside down by the loss of a family member or close friend in the attack. Robb Primary School, which was one of the deadliest of its kind.
Joe Ruiz, pastor of Templo Cristiano, said a teacher who is friends with his wife – herself a former teacher from Uvalde – best summed up the mood in the community when he said people “screamed everything what they could” and now they’re just tired and need a rest.
Police were heavily criticized for waiting more than 45 minutes to confront 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos in nearby classrooms where he unleashed carnage.
As the investigation into the attack continues, including why Ramos carried it out, some residents have expressed anger towards the police. Among them is 24-year-old carpenter Juan Carranza, who said he saw the attack take place across the street from the school. The next day he called the officers cowards.
Steven McCraw, who heads the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Friday that School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo made the “bad decision” to wait so long to send officers into the streets. locked classrooms. He said Arredondo, who was in charge of the law enforcement response during the siege, believed Ramos was barricaded inside the two adjoining classrooms and the children were no longer in danger. Arredondo, a graduate of Uvalde High School and recently elected to city council, has not spoken publicly since McCraw criticized his decision-making, and his house now has a police guard.
Oasis Outback, where Ramos bought his guns, remained open and his barbecue restaurant went about its usual Friday night business. The gun store at the back of its sporting goods section has been temporarily closed out of respect for the families of the victims, according to a posted sign.
An Oasis employee who declined to give her full name said the store had received angry calls blaming it for the attack, but the callers’ phone numbers were not from the area.
Support for gun rights is strong in Uvalde, which sits about halfway between San Antonio and the border town of Del Rio. But some parents and relatives of victims are calling for change.
“I just don’t know how people can sell this type of gun to an 18 year old. What is he going to use it for if not for this purpose? said Siria Arizmendi, a fifth grade teacher whose niece, Eliahna Garcia, was killed. She spoke in her dining room shortly before Eliahna’s great-grandparents, also residents of Uvalde, arrived.
Javier Carranza, a 43-year-old gun owner and army veteran whose daughter, Jacklyn, was killed, said it was “a bit ridiculous” to sell such firepower to a youngster 18 and better background checks are needed.
Uvalde sits amid flat fields of cabbage, onions, carrots, corn and peppers, but mechanized farming has replaced many jobs. Building materials companies are among its most coveted employers.
The town is home to a Border Patrol Post which operates a highway checkpoint and monitors freight trains in what has suddenly become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings. A massive camp of Haitian migrants that sprung up under a bridge in Del Rio last year grabbed headlines around the world.
Many residents can trace their family’s presence in Uvalde back three or four generations, creating a valuable sense of community. One Friday night a month, shops stay open late and food vendors take center stage outside a neoclassical courthouse.
“Uvalde Strong” messages adorn store windows, t-shirts and lawn signs. Curbs and sidewalks are less common the further one gets from the central plaza, with roosters walking on the cracked sidewalk near Robb Elementary School.
Ruiz, the pastor of Templo Crisitano whose children and grandchildren live in Uvalde, questions the new parishioners about their ancestry to get to know them better.
Before Tuesday, occasional road deaths were the biggest tragedies in Uvalde.
“We’ve had individuals murdered, but not on a large scale like this,” said Tony Gruber, pastor of Baptist Temple Church.
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