Uvalde: A City We’ll Never Forget & At The Forefront Of Change

Uvalde. Not many Americans were familiar with this small Texas town. Not many Americans knew that this was the hometown of beloved actor and activist Matthew McConaughey. May 24th that drastically changed, and the whole world’s eyes have been centered on Uvalde, Robb Elementary, and the United States gun laws. Especially pertaining to how an eighteen year old was able to obtain an AR-15 shortly after their birthday and wreak havoc on the innocent and unsuspecting elementary school. This being the second time coming just within a week of the equally devastating shooting at Tops Market in Buffalo, New York. Also committed by an eighteen year old with an AR-15. Which left us all with the ominous question: How did we get here and why?

To say that it has been hard to report this story would be putting it very lightly. In fact it doesn’t even begin to fathom just how complicated and trying it has been. As mentioned before the massacre at Tops Market had just occurred a week prior to the Uvalde shooting, and Woman To Woman Talk had chosen to celebrate the women who’s lives were unjustly taken. It seemed like we had just posted the Buffalo story and within a few days Uvalde and Robb Elementary entered our collective consciousness.

Just like the rest of the world we waited hoping there would be more survivors than victims. Hoping that the memoriam list would be short and earlier reported numbers were a mistake. But the numbers kept climbing and word soon got out that parents had to submit their DNA to see if it would either be a match to the shooting victims, if their child was at the hospital being treated for injuries, or at a reunion check point. As the night waned on word spread through various news outlets like CNN & MSNBC that in addition to DNA some parents had to recall what their child was wearing that day because that was the only identifying piece to properly collect DNA and ID victims.

Some of these poor children’s bodies had been completely destroyed to the point facial recognition was no longer an option. The last time some of these parents saw their children’s actual faces was when they sent them off to school that morning or at the school awards assembly that took place just two hours prior. No final viewing to help with the mourning process and simply embrace their child one last time.

No one wants to hear about an adult passing away due to violence. But there is something deeply unsettling and beyond soul crushing when you hear that one child has been taken from this world. How do we respond when there are nineteen children taken? Tragedies like this immediately make you think about the children in your life and how we can keep them safe just to live everyday life like going to school. Nieces, nephews, grandchildren, cousins, godchildren, sons, daughters, neighbors, and friends. These are what those nineteen souls were to this tight knit community who deeply loved them.  And the two dedicated teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, that literally protected their class with their lives gave a combined career total of forty years to shaping the lives and minds of elementary school children. People we need contributing to the future of this country and world are gone for no justifiable reason.

Fallen Robb Elementary teachers Irma Garcia(left) and Eva Mireles(right)

Just as we were able to take another collective sigh and try to write a piece that would provide some levity and honor those that were lost another bombshell surfaced: Uvalde Police Chief Pete Arredondo halted Uvalde Police, Border Patrol, and US Marshals from going into Robb Elementary for over an hour after arriving on the scene. Parents soon begin speaking out to media saying they begged, pleaded, and yelled for police to do something as they could hear gun shots actively going off in the school. This reinforced the fact that the praise Texas governor Greg Abbott previously gave to Arredondo and the Uvalde Police Department was premature and misgiven. Many parents stated they told the police to hand them their guns and tactical gear and let them go in and confront the shooter in efforts to retrieve their children and save as many lives as possible since the police were taking no action. The parents even reported that the police threatened to arrest them, some stated that they were tased and pepper sprayed. This certainly was the case for Angeli Rose Gomez, mother of two sons that attended Robb Elementary.

In a recent interview with CBS, Gomez stated that once she heard that an active shooting was taking place she immediately left her job that is forty miles away in pursuit of the school. Gomez continued to say that when she arrived she could hear gun shots going off but saw all law enforcement officials standing by and doing nothing. “Right away, as I parked, a US Marshal started coming toward my car, saying that I wasn’t allowed to be parked there,” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Well, we’re gonna have to arrest you because you’re being very uncooperative.’” Gomez went on to report that the US Marshal placed her in cuffs after her criticism of their inaction but a local officer convinced the Marshal to remove the cuffs. Immediately after the cuffs were removed Gomez says she ran and hoped over a fence, entered the school from a back entrance, and went to both sons classrooms and got them out the school unharmed. She stated that she could still hear gun shots and saw no law enforcement inside the school. Gomez concluded stating that police could have saved many more lives but they were noticeably more aggressive with the parents than the actual shooter inside. The question of all questions returns: How did we get here and why?

Angeli Rose Gomez, Photo Credit: CBS News

“Lilo And Stich.” That was the movie that was playing in the classroom right before a domestic terrorist took over. Miah Carrillo, 11, now known for smearing her friend’s blood all over herself and playing dead to survive gave a prerecorded testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. Miah recalled that her teachers allowed the class to watch “Lilo And Sticth” as a reward for finishing their lessons.

Miah went on to say that shortly after starting the movie her teachers got word that a shooting was in progress and was told to hide behind one of the teacher’s desks at the back of the classroom. But it was too late and the gunman had forced himself into the classroom, and told one of her teachers “Goodnight” before shooting her. Miah is one of many survivors or family members of victims from the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings who testified to the House Committee either in person or via prerecorded message. They were emphasizing and urging immediate change be done to protect citizens from these latest waves of violence. All advocating for action and each recounting what these senseless acts have done to each of them.

Miah Carillo, Robb Elementary Shooting Survivor

Uvalde’s most famous native son, McConaughey, met with lawmakers and gave a very passionate speech in the White House Press Room urging law makers to not waste the limited window we have and do something to make effective change that won’t make the lives lost in vain and another statistic. While McConaughey was giving his speech his wife, Camila Alves McConaughey, was holding a replica of the green Converse that was used to identify one of the victims. “Due to the exceptionally large exit wounds of an AR-15 rifle, most of the bodies so mutilated that only DNA test or green Converse could identify them. Many children were left not only dead but hollow. So, yes, counselors are going to be needed in Uvalde for a long time”, McConaughey went on to say.

He concluded his White House speech urging politicians and citizens to put aside party affiliations saying,“enough with the counterpunching. Enough of the invalidation of the other side. Let’s come to the common table that represents the American people. Find a middle ground, the place where most of us Americans live anyway. Especially on this issue. Because I promise you, America, you and me, we are not as divided as we are being told we are.”

Actor Matthew McConaughey at White House

At the time of writing this article it has been reported that the Senate has struck a bipartisan gun safety framework package that includes raising the buying age of an AR-15 from eighteen to twenty-one, granting states to implement red flag laws, and increased money for mental health treatment and school security. While significant in its early bipartisan efforts the package now goes into being written legislation that hopes to garner at least 60 votes in the Senate before heading to the House. And hopefully they move fast to ensure that children, parents, and teachers across the country will feel safe to go back to the classroom for the upcoming school year.

As for Uvalde, the wake of this tragedy is still beginning to unfold. Children like Miah, parents, teachers, doctors, first responders, and even a local coroner have all said they will need counseling. All traumatized by their experience. Robb Elementary will not hold any classes next year and it’s uncertain that it will ever reopen. Families of the twenty-one victims have laid their loved ones to rest. And it could be said that the victim count is actually twenty-two because the husband of Irma Garcia, Joe Garcia, died suddenly of a heart attack just two days after the fateful shooting.

Relatives stated he died of broken heart two hours after placing roses at a cross bearing Irma’s name at a makeshift memorial. The Garcias were slated to celebrate twenty-five years of marriage this month, instead they were laid to rest together leaving behind four children ages 23, 19, 15, and 13. It’s also important to note that at the time of writing this article Uvalde Police Chief Pete Arredondo is currently in hiding due to extreme public scrutiny and only granted the Texas Tribune an exclusive interview via phone, emails, and in-person with his attorney George E. Hyde present.

In the midst of covering this tragedy one can’t help but think of the Whitney Houston classic “The Greatest Love Of All” opening line saying, “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” After all that has gone on what are we adults going to teach the children that are being affected now? How do we keep them safe to ensure they have a future?How are we going to teach them to be effective leaders that will ensure safety and justice for all? That remains to be seen and will undoubtedly play out in the upcoming midterm elections. Until then Matthew McConaughey is right. We have a limited window of opportunity to put differences aside and do what’s best for all.

It’s also in this limited time to remember that kids have a small window to enjoy childhood. Childhood should not be spent avoiding domestic terrorist at school, or deciding what color bulletproof backpack to get. One can only hope and pray that all the children effected will once again enjoy the splendor of being a child, and feel safe to be in spaces that were made for them.