UVALDE, Texas – The media and law enforcement frenzy that enveloped the small city of Uvalde after Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School gave way over the weekend to calm as the community grieved for the 21 lives lost in one of the deadliest school shootings in Texas history.
Community prayer vigils, memorials and public expressions of support for the families of the 19 students and two teachers killed replaced the news conferences with state officials.
Hundreds of Uvalde residents and visitors from surrounding communities cycled through the Uvalde Town Square in the Latino-majority community of 16,000 about 75 miles west of San Antonio. Churches from Uvalde and neighboring cities organized prayer vigils at the square.
Law enforcement officials continued restricting access to the streets around Robb Elementary and the memorial that sprung up outside. So the town square has become a gathering place for the community to mourn.
“The pain is going to come and go, you’re going to feel sometimes … numb,” Christian Alexander said at Believer’s Christian Fellowship in San Antonio. “But know that what God is telling you during those moments … know you’re not just fighting for yourself, because that little precious angel is with you everywhere you go.”
SCHOOL PHOTOGRAPHER’S PHOTOS:Uvalde school photographers’ pictures bring children and tragedy into full focus
The air around the town square was filled with the sweet smell of dozens of candles. Twenty-two white crosses encircled the fountain at the center of the square. Each one was labeled with the names of the 21 victims, as well as the husband of one of the teachers who died of a heart attack shortly after his wife’s death.
The crosses were barely visible as mourners arrived with flowers and other items. They walked around the fountain, placing the flowers and other trinkets at the base of each cross bearing the name of each victim.
Some of the mourners who showed up to Saturday’s vigils had personal connections to the dead.
Pearl Moreno stood before some of the crosses in silence, at times shaking her head and wiping tears from her eyes. She is the cousin to two of the girls killed in Tuesday’s shooting, Navaeh Bravo and Jailah Silguero, both 10 years old. She described them as caring, loving and supportive of their siblings.
She also knew four of the other children.
“I’m a Head Start teacher, so some of these kids went through my doors since they were infants,” she said.
Moreno said Navaeh and Jailah’s parents are devastated. It was too hard for them to show up to the town square to see the outpouring of support from the community. But she expressed her appreciation for the crosses placed at the square and the mounds of flowers, candles and other items people have dropped off.
“It’s beautiful,” Moreno said. “The community’s come together and even though some of them may not know these kids, they’ve come and they’ve placed flowers and they’ve shown their love … toward all of the kids, not just my cousins.”
DYING OF A BROKEN HEART: Mass shootings, COVID, stress increase risk
Patricia Castanon is the aunt of 10-year-old Annabell Rodriguez, one of the 19 fourth graders killed Tuesday. She traveled to Uvalde from Frederick, Oklahoma, on Wednesday after learning her niece was one of the victims, just to be closer to Annabell’s twin sister.
She said she was glad to see the community rally around her family and the families of the other victims. She showed up to the vigil because she said she needed the spiritual support.
“I’ve been numb. I can’t help my brother. I can’t help my sister-in-law. I can’t help myself. There’s nothing supportive enough for them,” she said, adding that she has sought counseling to work through her feelings.
Castanon said Annabell was a happy child whom she would see a couple of times a year. She held up a photo of the two of them hugging, taken nearly two years ago. She said was unsure how long she would stay in Uvalde. Funeral services for Annabell were planned for June 8.
“I believe that she’s here with me, and any negative feeling that I’ve ever had, Annabell brings me to be a better parent, a better mom, a better grandmother, and to be more supportive to my family,” Castanon said.
Some of the families who showed up to the town square included classmates of the victims. They wept in the arms of their parents. Others walked to each of the crosses, laying down flowers.
Nicole Trevino and her son were among them. They live two blocks away from the school, and she had signed out her son from class on Tuesday morning about 15 minutes before the gunman entered the school. She’s grateful for that.
‘LEARNED HELPLESSNESS’:There’s a name for the feeling that nothing you do matters
Her son is set to return to Robb Elementary School in August. But Trevino said she hopes that does not happen. He has told her he’s afraid to go back.
“They need to just shut down that school. … What teacher wants to go back? What student? It’s just never going to be the same.”