'Gun violence doesn’t end when the shooting stops': Uvalde forever changed after tragic shooting
UVALDE, Texas — In the heart of this tiny Texas city, 21 maroon balloons bob over 21 white crosses adorned with the names of the dead.
Last week, a lone gunman walked into an elementary school and shot dead 19 students and two of their teachers before being killed by law enforcement.
The 90-minute attack leaves behind a trail of grief and unanswered questions.
While authorities are still investigating the shooter's motives, the May 24 shooting will forever alter residents and the city, once best known as the birthplace of actor Matthew McConaughey. The name Uvalde will follow survivors for the rest of their lives. They're the new Parkland, the new Columbine, the new Newtown, the new Aurora, the new Buffalo.
And the changes are already underway. After the custom caskets are buried and the therapy dogs have left town, the recriminations and criticism and lawsuits will follow, along with hurt between neighbors and a collective trauma that will lingerfor a lifetime, a brutal reality that will play out in increased suicide deaths and poverty, lower grades and graduation rates for survivors, and even lower property values across the city.
That's a pattern that has followed mass shootings across the country, and survivors and experts say Uvalde is likely to experience the same.
"Our community feels torn. It’s torn. It doesn’t feel the same," said longtime resident and business owner Joe Garza, 42.
Parents are reconsidering whether they want their kids to attend Robb Elementary. President Joe Biden is considering razing the entire building, which will otherwise need massive renovations to repair bullet wounds and reconfigure the space to avoid triggering horrific memories for the students and staff. Residents are more frequently locking their doors and scrutinizing strangers more carefully.
High school graduation was postponed, the celebration at the Honey Bowl stadium delayed indefinitely and forever overshadowed by the tragedy.
While the city today is filled with community spirit and emotional connections, history has shown tough days are ahead, brought by the coming lawsuits, political clashes and the constant reminders of loss. And because everyone processes grief differently and at different speeds, neighbors will be in different places emotionally for years.
“So many times, people ask me, 'When will we get back to normal?'" said Frank DeAngelis, who was principal at Columbine High School during the 1999 shooting. "But you really do have to redefine what is normal. Everybody experiences the same event but not in the same way."
Based on past shootings, the coming days, months and years in Uvalde will play out in a relatively predictable pattern, driven in part by inevitable lawsuits pitting neighbor against neighbor.
The . His family has been widely criticized, and they are begging for understanding.
Meanwhile, to delay entering the school and confront the shooter.
Jesse Flores, who runs The Water Tree store just off Main Street, taught marital arts to Arredondo when he was younger, and he knows many of the affected families closely. He hopes the killings don't change the community, but he knows they will.
“These kids are traumatized for life. By one person," he said. “We always say nothing exciting happens here. Things are going to change."
On a hot southern Texas afternoon a few days after the attack, Marcos Luna, 25, sprayed down a dark silver Toyota Camry at a community carwash. Luna owns a car-detailing service and, with the help of a crew of high school volunteers, he was donating his time and equipment as a fundraiser. For $10, Luna and his crew hosed off, soaped, rinsed and dried their neighbors' cars, greeting friends through rolled-down windows as they rolled up.
Like many, Luna grew up in Uvalde and immediately jumped in to help. His mother's best friend lost her daughter in the attack, and he knows the other families. But as he looks around at the swarming students and volunteers, he considers the good that's come from the bad.
“I’ve never seen this town come together like this," he said. "And it’s sad to say it took a tragedy involving kids to do it.”
That feeling won't last, said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessi was killed in the 2012 movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado.
“They’re in shock. They can’t comprehend because they have trauma brain. They can’t think clearly," she said.
After the Aurora shooting, Phillips turned her anger and sadness into action and now travels the country visiting communities impacted by mass shootings. She and her husband were in when they heard about Uvalde. Two days later, they were in Texas to visit the memorial and meet with victims' families.
“This always happens at first – the community gathers around them. And then over time it fractures and breaks," she said.
Phillips said it took her nine years before she was able to sit and read a book because her brain was so scrambled by the trauma. And she said she's lost close friends because they missed the happy-go-lucky lady who would go hiking anytime they called.
GENERATIONS OF VIOLENCE:
Philips and her husband sued the ammo dealer who sold her daughter's killer 4,000 bullets, lost and had to pay the dealer's legal fees, forcing them into bankruptcy. They now live full time in an RV. Phillips said finding a source of spiritual strength has helped her manage her grief and anger, but she said she struggles anew every time there's another mass shooting.
Like many other survivors and family members, Phillips draws strength sharing her experience with other victims, something that Mary Ann Jacob has also counted on. Jacob was the school librarian during the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and she sheltered kids in the library.
"I know firsthand that the trauma of gun violence doesn’t end when the shooting stops," she said. "In the span of one day, our entire community changed. One day, we were a quiet, small town in Connecticut. But after Dec. 14, 2012, 'Sandy Hook' became synonymous with one of the most devastating tragedies in American history, the same way 'Uvalde' now will. I have no doubt that the trauma of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook School will reverberate in our community forever."
Like Phillips, Jacob channels her trauma into work to reform gun laws, a topic that many residents in Uvalde are not ready to talk about.
Back at the memorial in downtown Uvalde, Mayra Ramirez and her family came to pay their respects to the dead. Like most in the city, she knew several victims. And like many residents, she's not really sure what happens next. She was heartened, she said, to see the carwash and the memorials and the other fundraisers, with many residents wearing the Robb Elementary School color of maroon.
“It’s brought us all together, but this is hard," she said as candles flickered in the evening light. "Even thinking about it is too hard.”
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night.
Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they text 741741.
If you have lost a loved one to suicide, visit to find support resources.
If you are grieving the death of a loved one who served, you can contact the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) at 800-959-8277.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: