Vigils, memorial services and funerals conclude in the town of Uvalde in the southwestern Texas Hill Country, but the mourning is far from over.
It has been a month since a gunman broke into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and opened fire, killing 19 children and two teachers. More than a dozen others were injured, as was the quiet town’s psyche that infamously burst into the national spotlight.
Services took place on Saturday in San Angelo for Uziyah Garcia, 10, the latest victim to be buried. His aunt, Leticia Garcia, read a eulogy talking about the life “Uzi” lived and the family’s grief.
“A few nights ago I was able to see Uzi in my dream,” she said. “I kissed him, hugged him and told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me. I told him ‘Jesus loves you’ and he said ‘Jesus loves you’ in my ear.”
Funerals can provide a sense of closure, a “container” for grief and a ritual that helps communities deal with loss, said clinical psychologist Dr. David Read Johnson, co-director of the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven, Connecticut.
The community will need strong social and emotional support, starting with the families of victims and then for students in schools, he said.
Trauma-informed strategies and “safe spaces” to share and process feelings will be key to long-term community healing, Johnson said.
“Beyond the immediate response, families will face the long and difficult reality of living without their loved one,” Johnson told USA TODAY. “The community, no longer focused on a specific task at hand, will face the toughest questions of what comes next for Robb Elementary, for education and for school safety. “
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Uvalde is a sinister symptom of a national disease. More people have died in school massacres in the past five years than in the previous 12 years combined, according to a massacre database maintained by USA TODAY, the Associated Press and Northeastern University.
Shootings on school property are at an all-time high, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. And firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“One of the most traumatic aspects of the mass shootings in the United States is that our many circles of communities – family, local and national – do not have time to assimilate the horror of our loss before being beaten by another gruesome shootout,” Kari said. Winter, professor of American studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“We are basically in a state of undeclared civil war.”
A community buries 19 young children
Uvalde and its 16,000 inhabitants is a small town with a strong Latino culture and a big heart. Coming together to support friends and loved ones is a no-brainer. Two funeral homes in Uvalde said they would not charge victims’ families for funeral services. And, aided by national support, GoFundMe is campaigning for the families of the victims raised over $5 million a few days after the carnage.
Also in a few days, 10 years Amerie Jo Garza was one of the first to be buried. Classmates say she was trying to call 911 on her new phone when she was shot.
Amerie Jo was a Girl Scout and proud of the badges she earned. The Girl Scouts were also proud of her, posthumously awarding Amerie one of Girl Scouting’s highest honors: the Bronze Cross. It is awarded for saving or attempting to save a life at the risk of the Girl Scout’s life.
“On May 24, Amerie did everything she could to save the lives of her classmates and teachers,” the organization said. “We will always carry his story with us and ensure that his courageous actions endure for generations.”
“HIS COURAGEOUS ACTIONS WILL LAST”:Girl Scouts award presented to victim of Uvalde
A few days later, Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia was buried. The day after she was supposed to be 10 years old. Her family had planned a big party and Ellie was hoping for gifts related to the Disney movie “Encanto.”
Ellie loved making videos and had practiced a dance with her older sister for her quinceañera party —— a girl’s 15th birthday celebration — even though it was still years away.
The whole family is facing a long road to recovery, said Ellie’s aunt, Siria Arizmendi: “It’s just sad for all the children.”
Layla Salazar, 11, was one of the last children to be buried. Layla loved swimming and running, was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys and loved dancing to TikTok videos, her father, Vincent Salazar, said. She won six races at Robb Elementary’s field day. He had shared photos of her with her ribbons on social media.
“Grieving is a process,” said Ogbonnaya Omenka, assistant professor and director of diversity at Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Science. “For public health, the greater the support for bereaved people, the shorter their process of recovery and return to their roles in society.”
How does a community evolve?
Controversy over police actions in the minutes after the shooting began did not help the healing process. There were enough officers on the scene having arrested the shooter three minutes after entering the buildingthe director of the Texas Department of Public Safety testified this week.
Steve McCraw described the police response as an “abject failure” that ignored lessons from previous shootings and put the lives of officers ahead of children. McCraw accused incident commander Pete Arredondo, the school district’s police chief, of preventing officers from quickly confronting the shooter.
Arredondo said he did everything he could and highlighted efforts to evacuate hundreds of students from other classrooms during the tragedy. But many parents and other communities want him out.
“In any public health intervention, controversy, unfortunately, can become a debilitating distraction from solutions, both immediate and long-term,” Omenka said, referring to an African proverb: “When elephants fight, grasses suffer. “.
Nancy Sutton, a professional school portrait photographer, has taken pictures of virtually every student at Uvalde Schools for the past 20 years. This includes the victims of the carnage at Robb Elementary.
Sutton said the community takes great care of families. Recovery has been made more difficult by “bad press” over how the shooting was handled, she said, adding that most residents are unhappy with police and city officials and want action is taken.
“We are all still grieving and it will take time,” she said. “Families are holding on but of course want answers. I don’t blame them. It’s so heartbreaking to see what this has done to our community and our school district.”
Part of recovering a population after a public health tragedy is understanding the contributing factors to the problem and finding ways to prevent it from happening again, or how to “deal with it” if it comes back, Omenka said. .
“It could lead to controversy and an exacerbation of the emotional pain caused by the problem, if, for example, there is evidence or if the public believes that more measures could have been taken to prevent or solve the problem”, a- he declared.
Communal grief can morph in many ways, said Johnson, a clinical psychologist. The event can be avoided and his memory suppressed, resulting in unresolved trauma that will fester for years.
Or, like in Parkland, Florida — where a teenager opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people — it can turn into sustained activism and community conversation, Johnson said.
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“Only by accepting the reality of what happened can a community find new, creative ways to support each other and heal together over time,” he said. “The trauma and loss of May 24, 2022 will never leave the community of Uvalde, but if addressed properly and consistently, hopefully, her suffering can be transformed into a more compassionate and empathetic society.”
Pain and shock are part of the process, said Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi, in the 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Ghawi was among 12 people killed during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises”.
Phillips gets an idea of what the survivors of Uvalde are up against.
“They are in shock,” she said. “They can’t think clearly. I couldn’t understand things. I was unable to read a book cover to cover for nine years. And that’s not unusual.”
Frank DeAngelis was the principal of Columbine High School in 1999 when two students opened fire, killing 12 students and a teacher.
He said Columbine High is stronger than ever.
“So many times people ask me when are we going to get back to normal. But you really have to redefine what is normal,” he said. “It shouldn’t define the community.”
Authorities plan to raze the school, but experts say invisible scars can linger for decades. In Uvalde, residents say some things won’t change. Jesse Flores, 51, said he would not lock his doors more often or treat strangers differently after the shooting.
“We can tell when people are coming from out of town. We treat them like anyone else, like they’re part of the family,” said Flores, who runs a store in downtown. town. “An event is not going to change the way I act.”
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Contributor: Marina Pitofsky, USA TODAY; Niki Griswold, Chuck Lindell and Luz Moreno-Lozano, American statesman from Austin; Rosanna Fraire, San Angelo Standard-Times; The Associated Press