NewsNationalScripps News

Actions

Searching for peace one year after mass shooting in Uvalde

The tragedy left a generation of young students and parents searching for a sense of safety and peace.
Searching for peace one year after mass shooting in Uvalde
Posted at 2:50 PM, May 24, 2023

One year ago, a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School left 19 students and two teachers dead and changed the lives of a quiet town 15,000 people call home. The tragedy left a generation of young students and parents searching for a sense of safety and peace.

On a Tuesday afternoon after school, nearly a year since the massacre, Caitlyne Gonzalez jumped up eagerly to showcase her new piano skills. The 11-year-old fifth grader pulled out her phone, picked out a song, and began to play the keys she's been practicing on a piano she was gifted.

"Karate, guitar lessons, Girl Scouts, gymnastics; I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things," Caitlyne's mom, Gladys Gonzalez, said.

Her family dynamic was turned upside down on May 24, 2022, when a gunman walked into Robb Elementary school, took 21 lives, and left a community terrorized.

"I just feel Iike we have been stuck on May 24," Gladys Gonzalez said. 

She's done her best as a mother to keep her daughter, Caitlyne Gonzalez, occupied.

"She had re-occurring nightmares and an increase in anxiety," Gladys Gonzalez said.

It took nine months for Caitlyne Gonzalez to feel safe enough to sleep without her mom by her side.

"I'm a survivor from Robb Elementary," Caitlyne Gonzalez said. "I have PTSD."

Caitlyne Gonzalez remembers the sound of the gun shots as they rang out, the heavy police presence, and broken glass as she was rushed to a nearby funeral home. She said she knew all of the victims, which included some of her closest friends, Jackie Cazares, Eliahana Cruz Torres and Annabell Rodriguez.

Gladys Gonzalez said she knew early on her daughter would need therapy and sought out help at the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center, but said her daughter only regressed.

SEE MORE: Gun violence is affecting 88% of Americans' mental health, study finds

"Navigating this journey has not been an easy one," Gladys Gonzalez admitted.

They tried two more therapists before coming across EMDR therapy, which  stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It's a mental health treatment technique involving eye movement to help people heal from trauma. While the sessions are helping, the 1 ½ hour drive adds a strain to an already busy schedule.

"We are being put in this predicament of having to travel because that's not being offered here locally," Gladys Gonzalez said. She said talk therapy isn't enough for some students traumatized and terrorized by the gunman.

In 2022, Governor Greg Abbott invested $5 million to establish a long-term Resiliency Center in Uvalde to provide crisis counseling and help the community heal. A portion of the money was used to purchase and renovate a former bank building for the Resiliency Center, which operated out of a tent for nearly a year.

"There is nobody in this community that this mass tragedy did not affect," Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell said. "The grant is two years, and you think $5,00,000 is a lot of money, but it goes very quickly when you're trying to pay for clinicians and their services."

Texas ranks at the bottom of the list when it comes to access to mental health care, according to Mental Health America. 

Mitchell said it will likely take years for people in Uvalde to heal and she plans to continue to apply for grants to keep the Resiliency Center up and running. 

Scripps reached out to Governor Greg Abbott's office to request information on any additional funding for the Resiliency Center, but his office did not respond to our requests made by phone and email.

As part of the healing journey for Caitlyne Gonzalez and her mother, they have joined a social justice movement to help change gun laws. Gladys Gonzalez is now part of Mom's Demand Action and Mothers Against Greg Abbott.

SEE MORE: Uvalde requests privacy as anniversary of school shooting approaches

Markers, lined paper, pins, and envelopes covered a living room table. Hunched over, Caitlyne Gonzalez drew circles on a white lined sheet. Each circle will be filled with various messages and turned into a pin for her supporters. One pin read, "No more silence, end gun violence."

In the last year, Caitlyne Gonzalez has spoken at roughly seven events calling for lawmakers to increase the age to purchase assault style weapons.

"I shouldn't have to be here right now, but I am because my friends don't have a voice no more," Caitlyne Gonzalez' voice trembled as emotions overtook her while giving a speech.

She said she wants to continue to tell the stories of friends she lost, "so that it can't happen anywhere else."

While a sense of pride fills Gladys Gonzalez, she can't believe her daughter, at just 11 years old, has not only survived a mass shooting but also advocates to help create safer schools.

"Sometimes I feel sad, sometimes I feel mad," Caitlyne Gonzalez said when asked about her feelings when she's giving a speech.

Her mother is also dealing with her own guilt.

"I see Caitlin and I'm blessed to say that I have her, but at the same time it's that guilt feeling," Gladys Gonzalez said. "So many other families who are living with that void."


Trending stories at Scrippsnews.com