A year after Uvalde's school massacre, healing remains elusive
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
One year ago today, a gunman entered a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers. For the surviving families and the broader community, the 12 months since then have been an agonizing search for justice, accountability, closure and, above all, healing. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Maggie Mireles' sister, Eva Mireles, was one of the two teachers killed at Robb Elementary that day. A year later, Maggie's house is a sort of shrine to her sister's memory. She has framed smiling photos of Eva everywhere.
MAGGIE MIRELES: Downstairs, upstairs, next to my bed, in the hallway, in my bedroom, in my closet - everywhere.
FLORIDO: In her garage, she has large plastic bins stacked all along one side.
MIRELES: ...All my Eva stuff. You know, these are all flowers from her funeral, the plaza, or Robb, or...
FLORIDO: From all the memorials?
MIRELES: Yeah, from all the memorials. I haven't thrown anything away. I've got - I - everything that I could save that people have put there for Eva - stuffed animals - I try to keep as much as I can.
FLORIDO: Since Eva was killed, Maggie's life has come to revolve around honoring her sister's name. The same is true for Eva's other sister, Sandra Mireles Sanders.
SANDRA MIRELES SANDERS: At this point, everything we do is for her - everything. That might be not a good thing, but for me, it is. Like, that's how I will be able to live life is live it for her.
FLORIDO: This is all part of the sisters' healing process - getting Eva's name and face tattooed on their arms, wearing Eva bracelets, custom license plates for their SUVs. It makes them feel closer to her and sometimes just a little better, but only sometimes.
MIRELES: One day I think I'm doing good. And then I read something, I see something, and I just get angry because I don't want it to be true still (crying). I don't - I can't accept that Eva's gone. I don't want Eva to be gone. So I don't know that we're healing. I think we're understanding it a little bit more and just learning how to live with it.
FLORIDO: The sisters feel that part of what is holding them up on the path toward healing are the many questions about the shooting that are still unresolved - mostly stemming from the failed police response. It took police an agonizing 77 minutes to enter the classroom and kill the shooter. Eva was pulled into the hallway still alive, but she died there. Over the last year, her sisters have learned, from her surviving students, tidbits about Eva's fight to stay alive - that she used a plastic bag to tourniquet her arm, that she kept saying she didn't want to die. But so many details are still missing. And so the Mireles sisters feel suspended in their grief, grasping to piece together a narrative, unable to move forward. That's why they asked to visit their sister's classroom before Robb Elementary School is demolished. Officials said OK, as long as they didn't talk publicly about what they saw.
MIRELES: That's where Eva was when this happened. And I want to go see.
MIRELES SANDERS: We don't know what to expect, but for me, that's going to be another piece of the healing - to be in the spot where she took her last breaths because that was it.
FLORIDO: The Mireles family is just one of the 21 families who lost someone in the Uvalde massacre. A year later, they're all searching for understanding, justice, healing.
VERONICA MATA: How do you ever heal from something like this? How do you heal from the murder of your daughter?
FLORIDO: Veronica Mata's daughter, Tess Marie Mata, was one of the 19 children killed.
How have you tried to heal? Or how have you even started trying to heal?
MATA: As a mother, I was supposed to be there to protect her, and I wasn't there to protect her. So I just - I need to know what happened to her before I can do any of that.
FLORIDO: Is that the big holdup for you and, you think, many of the families - is not having the details?
MATA: I don't think so much the details 'cause I don't want to know exactly what happened to her, but I want to know if there was some chance that she could have survived. I feel like if we know, then those what-if questions won't be there anymore. Like, what if they would have gone in faster? Or what if they would have stopped him before he went into the building? You know, just those what-if...
FLORIDO: It's those open questions that haunt you?
MATA: Yes. Yeah, it is. It is. And I don't think any of us can fully look forward to moving on until that closure is there.
FLORIDO: Is it possible to get that?
MATA: I don't think we'll fully get it, but I think we'll get some of it. And I think it'll be enough to where we can start to live - start to learn how to live without her.
FLORIDO: Many of the families think or hope they'll learn more once ongoing federal, state and local investigations are complete. They hope the findings will tell them what they've been demanding to know all year - why did the police take so long? They're also waiting on Uvalde's district attorney to decide whether to seek criminal charges against officers. But that question has become a source of deep tension within Uvalde because in this town of 15,000 people, many of the officers on the scene that day were related to or knew victims. It's just one of many uncomfortable truths that have widened divisions here. Parents have transferred their children out of Uvalde schools. There have been lawsuits and frustration from surviving parents over how little their newfound activism has won support for gun control.
RONALD GARZA: It's been a challenging year.
FLORIDO: Ronald Garza is a Uvalde County commissioner, and he said the tragedy has so consumed Uvalde for the last year that there are many people here who are ready to turn the page and move on and who've grown annoyed with families' persistent calls for answers, accountability and reform.
GARZA: There's been some naysayers out there that - you know, OK, what do the parents want now? What do they want now? What do they want now? And I'm quick to remind them and say, hey, wait a minute. You didn't lose a child. You didn't have to go identify a body. So just back off. And then they say, well, yeah, you're right. You're right.
FLORIDO: There has been some good, Garza says. The influx of donations has allowed parks to be renovated. Uvalde now has more mental health services than it ever had, and money is still flowing. But he knows true healing won't begin until families feel they've gotten the answers they need. On Monday, Maggie and Sandra Mireles stopped briefly at their sister Eva's grave at the Uvalde Town Cemetery. They were on their way to Robb Elementary where district officials were going to allow them an hour inside their sister's classroom in their search for closure.
MIRELES: I don't know what to expect.
MIRELES SANDERS: My plan is to sit on the floor and read a rosary for not only her but everybody else that took their last breaths there.
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FLORIDO: At the fenced-off and boarded-up school, the district superintendent led them to their sister's classroom. An hour later, they were back at the cemetery removing Mother's Day decorations from Eva's grave.
MIRELES: I don't know. I thought I was going to feel some kind of closure or some kind of understanding, maybe, and I didn't get none of that. I just felt heavy, and my mind just kept going to just trying to figure out, piece together what happened. But yeah, it wasn't what I expected at all.
FLORIDO: Sandra said she felt no more at peace than before.
MIRELES SANDERS: I need the peace of it. I'm hoping that's what it'll entail at the end of whatever I'm looking for. I'm going to keep trying. I don't know that I'll succeed.
FLORIDO: Healing remains elusive, she said. She knows it might be for a long, long time. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Uvalde, Texas.
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