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After school shooting, Uvalde's tight-knit community prays, donates blood, grieves

By Jason Beeferman & Erin Douglas, The Texas Tribune
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Church members pray during mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Wednesday in Uvalde, Texas, a day after 21 people were killed in a school shooting. Photo by Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune
Church members pray during mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Wednesday in Uvalde, Texas, a day after 21 people were killed in a school shooting. Photo by Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

UVALDE, Texas, May 26 (UPI) -- Just 30 minutes before morning mass began at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where dozens of residents gathered Wednesday morning to pray, Fatima Abraham, a community leader in the church, sat next to a woman weeping in the first pew and consoled her in her arms.

The woman, Abraham said, was the mother of the shooter who opened fire at Robb Elementary, killing 19 children and two adults on Tuesday.

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"We are with her because we have to pray instead of criticizing or attacking," Abraham told reporters in Spanish at the church. "Turning into hate and resentment is not good for humanity."

Abraham told the woman that she was not to blame.

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"I simply told her that we were with her, that not everyone here was against her," she said. "She has to know that she is not to blame for this. She didn't put that gun in her son's hand."

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Residents of this small South Texas town awoke Wednesday devastated by the tragedy the day before, and then, they rose. They rose and grasped for ways they could help.

Hundreds of them lined up outside the Herby Ham Activity Center beginning at 8 a.m. to donate to the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center.

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The line wrapped around the building. Adrienne Mendoza, the chief operations officer, said the number of people exceeded their capacity by at least three or four times -- "a beautiful, incredible turnout," she said.

Trinity Moreno, the mother of a 2-year-old, said she's a caregiver at heart. She lined up early.

"I wish I could change something," said Moreno, who attended the school district in Uvalde. "They [were] just babies."

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'They were good kids'

Trinity Arriola, 21, has a brother who attends Robb Elementary and was unharmed.

"I'm happy he's alive," she said, between working the cash register at a local liquor store.

She is also a substitute teacher at the school. Earlier this school year, she taught the children of Irma Garcia, one of the two teachers who died Tuesday. She remembers those children well.

"You could tell they were good kids," Arriola said. She remembers leaving a note to Garcia complimenting one of the most well-behaved students. Arriola later learned that the student died in the shooting, she said.

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Ida Hernandez, who attended the Wednesday morning mass, taught at the Uvalde school district for more than 40 years at Dalton Elementary School, which serves pre-K through first grade. Many of Dalton's students often go on to second grade at Robb Elementary.

She said the district's schools are under-resourced, and that teachers often spend their own money and time obtaining or even hand-making school supplies for their students. On Tuesday, two of them were killed, reportedly trying to protect their students.

"In a situation like that, I would've done the same thing -- try to gather my babies," said Hernandez, who retired two years ago.

She said her students sometimes dealt with problems at home, and she would do her best to make them feel safe and secure.

"You take the children as they come to you and love, love, love them," Hernandez said. "That's all you can do."

A familiar drill

This week is typically among the most joyous times of year for students of all ages in the Uvalde school district. Hernandez's twin grandsons were supposed to graduate high school on Friday.

"There's going to be no graduation for a while, and that's OK," she said. "Because we need this time. We need it. To mourn our loss as a town."

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It's senior week, when local high school students have days' worth of activities leading up to graduation. One of those activities was a walk through elementary schools, which happened Monday. Graduating seniors dressed in their cap and gowns strode through the halls of Robb Elementary, cheered on by giggling second-, third- and fourth-graders, just a day before the massacre. The high school students took pictures with their little cousins, nephews, nieces and siblings at Robb.

Jaime Cruz, a graduating senior of Uvalde High School, participated in the walk. He said everyone looks forward to seeing their old teachers from Robb, as many have taught at the elementary school for decades, instructing generations of Uvalde residents.

"There's not an event that involves the community that doesn't involve the high school as well," Cruz said. Students look forward to pep rallies, football games, seasonal parades and talent shows, events that are attended by residents across the community. "You know everyone," he said of living in Uvalde.

Marilyn Olivarez, 15, is a freshman at Uvalde High School, which was placed into lockdown on Tuesday because of the active shooter threat at the elementary school.

Olivarez recounted a story familiar to students all over America. She was in the math hallway. The lockdown was announced. She crammed into a corner of the classroom with other students. Most of them thought it was a drill because it was at the end of the year, she said.

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They didn't get to move for at least four more hours.

"I just texted my mom the whole time," Olivarez said. She also tried to comfort her friends whose younger siblings were at Robb Elementary.

Olivarez and Cruz called for stricter gun laws.

"It's just ridiculous," Olivarez said, speaking outside of her high school on Wednesday, where she sheltered the day before. "You never hear this in any other country."

Cruz agreed. "Change needs to happen," he said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. Read the original here.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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