Uvalde parents filled with angst, anger as kids return to school

·4 min read

By Brad Brooks

UVALDE, Texas (Reuters) - Brett Cross had several questions for the Uvalde school board when it met this week, but went home with few answers.

His nephew, Uziyah Garcia, 10, was among those killed in the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary when a gunman burst into a fourth-grade classroom and fatally shot 19 students, aged 9 to 11, along with two teachers. The boy lived with Cross, who considered him a son.

Three months after the shooting and with school set to resume, Cross confronted the school board at its meeting to ask about its investigation into the botched response by the school district's police officers.

He was told the investigation had yet to start.

Cross asked about security, but was told some measures, like fencing around campuses, would not be completed by the time children return to the classroom on Sept. 6.

And Cross, who cares for six other school-age children, asked if the Texas Department of Public Safety officers assigned to Uvalde's schools this year were among those who failed to quickly confront the gunman at Robb Elementary.

The board had no answer. Cross said he walked away frustrated and angry - sentiments expressed by other parents who also attended. Some said what they wanted most was an apology from the school board, which they say they have yet to receive.

"They just keep trying to put Band Aids on a gunshot wound," Cross said in an interview after the meeting. "If they would just act on half the things they talk about, it might make us feel better."

A spokeswoman for the school board did not respond to requests for comment.

'SO MUCH ANXIETY'

Parents in Uvalde, a small town in Texas Hill Country about 80 miles west of San Antonio, expressed a range of fears, anxieties and hopes in interviews this week as they prepare to send their children back to school.

Many said they were unsure whether they were putting their children in harm's way by sending them off to school.

The same fears are felt by many across the United States, which has seen a string of mass killings at schools over the years including those at Sandy Hook Elementary, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and Columbine High School.

Since the shooting in May, scenes of grief and heartbreak have been visible daily in Uvalde.

One afternoon this week, an elderly couple stopped their car near the town square and took photos in front of a mural showing the beaming face of Jackie Cazares, 9, who was killed at Robb Elementary.

"That's my granddaughter," said the man, turning to a passerby. "That's my granddaughter."

Another night, a woman and her two adolescent children stood amid wilted flowers and rain-soaked teddy bears, part of a memorial in front of Robb Elementary.

They struggled to prop up a large photo of Jose Flores, 10, who died in the shooting. Night had fallen, neighborhood dogs were howling, and the children complained about how eerie it felt. "I don't care if you're scared, we're doing this for Jose!" said the woman.

These are the rituals residents endure here now, small acts of impossible grief.

At a Meet the Teacher night at Uvalde Elementary school on Tuesday, some parents said school officials were doing their best. Others said they would have their children learn virtually from home. The school will absorb many students from Robb Elementary, which will be razed.

"I have so much anxiety," said Kelsie Paradeaux, as she led her third-grade son, Jase, by the hand to meet his teacher.

The parents facing the most difficult decisions are those who lost a child at Robb Elementary but have other school-age children.

"I have a senior in high school this year," said Javier Cazares, whose daughter, Jackie, was killed, but whose older daughter, Jazmin, is preparing for classes. "As a father, of course, I'm hesitant for her to come to school. But she wants to experience it, her senior year."

STRUGGLE FOR HEALING

Arnulfo Reyes's body is slowly on the mend. But his mind is busy grappling with being abandoned time and again by the school system, he says.

Reyes was a fourth-grade teacher at Robb Elementary, and was shot by the gunman who then turned his fire on Reyes's 11 students, all of whom died.

When he lay wounded on his classroom floor, bleeding for over an hour before police entered and shot dead the gunman, he says he felt abandoned. At the San Antonio hospital where he underwent several surgeries, just one school administrator visited, he said.

Now school is starting and his fellow teachers are heading back and Reyes misses the ritual of preparing a classroom for another year of students.

"And, again, nobody has contacted me. So there's abandonment again," said Reyes, who is now at home, convalescing.

He says school leaders have not done enough to help the town move forward.

"Apologies have to be made in order for our community to start healing," Reyes said. "And there haven't been apologies for anything."

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Uvalde, Texas; editing by Paul Thomasch and Deepa Babington)