© 2022 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR News

While the gun control debate amplifies, the overwhelming emotion in Uvalde is grief

Robb Elementary School is the site of a shooting that killed 19 students and two adults in Uvalde, Texas.
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
Robb Elementary School is the site of a shooting that killed 19 students and two adults in Uvalde, Texas.

UVALDE, Texas — The small community of Uvalde, Texas is grieving one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history as assistance — and the national political spotlight – descends on the area.

Parents and their kids are beginning to confront the unthinkable – 21 people shot dead, including 19 students – at grief counseling provided at the local civic center.

Therapy dogs in red vests bounce around outside as the shocked community starts the slow process of managing the trauma caused by the 18-year-old gunman. Food trucks pull up to offer meals.

Counselors from other nearby communities are arriving to help, such as Iveth Pacheco, who works at a high school and drove about 85 miles from San Antonio to the small town surrounded by cow pastures and crop fields.

"We're here to be a presence for every family that is grieving this tragic loss," she told NPR. "We listen. I don't think there's anything we could tell them other than listen, and be ready for any thought and emotion they are bringing."

Counselors from nearby areas arrive in Uvalde, Texas to help the local community in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting.
Merrit Kennedy / NPR
/
NPR
Counselors from nearby areas arrive in Uvalde, Texas to help the local community in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting.

A tight-knit community

It seems like everybody in this town of about 15,000 has a personal connection to victims and the shooter.

Around the corner from the scene of the shooting at Robb Elementary School, Sarah Zapata, who works for the local court system, is playing with her granddaughters.

"It's sad for all the families, because we all do know each other. Everybody knows everybody," she told NPR as the kids run around the front yard of her home. "It's unimaginable."

The surrounding neighborhood is quiet, with large trees and lots of dogs. On a nearby street, two horses amble on the blacktop as a man in a car slowly leads them.

Most doors and windows are closed the morning after the shooting, as crowds of reporters stand in front of the school. Agents from ATF knock on the doors of nearby houses to talk to neighbors about what they may have seen the previous day. Law enforcement officers patrol the area, some wearing large cowboy hats.

"We all went to Robb. My kids all went to Robb," Zapata said. "You really never think it's going to happen in a place like this."

It feels like everyone knows victims, and the gunman

Zapata's children range in age from 17 to 24, and one of them knows the suspect from elementary school.

"He just said he was always a different kid, just one of those kids that you know is different. Not with the crowd, I guess," she said.

Nearby, at Uvalde High School, Ariana Diaz and Jaime Cruz were expecting to graduate this week but now the ceremony is up in the air and they say it's far from their minds.

"We're just trying to make sure our community is all together and well," Cruz said.

They said they've known the gunman their whole lives. Salvador Ramos reportedly dropped out of this high school.

"We weren't friends with him but we knew of him," Diaz told NPR. "It's crazy, whenever he dropped out we didn't know where he went. I know he was in a dark place, but I'm not sure what happened."

She said the tragedy has touched almost everyone she knows.

"Many of our classmates and friends lost siblings, cousins, their mother," Diaz said. "It hurts so bad to watch them. It hurts for our community and it hurts for those families especially, that they're having to go through this type of pain."

The high school students came down to see a news conference from Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, and they want to see stricter gun laws imposed.

"We really need to start spreading awareness and getting better gun control in place," Diaz added.

The national political debate on guns takes the spotlight

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott framed the tragedy as a mental illness issue, not one caused by the state's permissive gun laws.

He also said the gunman did not have any known mental health issues when he shot his grandmother in the face, crashed his car and then turned an AR-15 on the local elementary school. Authorities have said he legally purchased the gun shortly after his 18th birthday.

"We have a problem with mental health illness in this community," Abbott said, relaying what he described as the opinion of the local sheriff and mayor.

The auditorium erupted minutes later when Beto O'Rourke, who is Abbott's Democratic challenger in the governor's race, stood up and approached the stage.

The officials onstage shouted at him to stand down, some appearing enraged at his presence. O'Rourke said it was long past time to take real action to stop gun violence.

Beto O'Rourke interrupts a press conference at Uvalde high school. O'Rouke was escorted out of the conference on Wednesday.
Patricia Lim / KUT
/
KUT
Beto O'Rourke interrupts a press conference at Uvalde high school. O'Rouke was escorted out of the conference on Wednesday.

"The next shooting is right now, and you're doing nothing," O'Rourke said. "This is totally predictable when you choose to repeat this."

"Sir, you're out of line!" yelled Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

O'Rourke was swiftly ushered out of the auditorium by law enforcement, and continued to speak to reporters outside. "We are 50th in the nation in mental health care access," he said.

For O'Rourke, the main issue is gun control: "You want a solution? Stop selling AR-15s in the state of Texas," he said, while also calling for gun control measures such as universal background checks, red flag laws and safe storage laws.

"It is insane that we allow an 18-year-old to go in and buy an AR-15," O'Rourke added. "What the hell did we think he was going to do with that?"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.