Reporter’s Notebook: Reflecting on Uvalde school shooting

Through reporter Leigh Waldman’s experience, we invite you to learn about our role as journalists & members of this community

(Graphic by Henry Keller/Video by Gavin Nesbitt) The Reporter's Notebook is an exclusive offering for members of KSAT Insider.

KSAT journalists had a duty to be with Uvalde — part of our South Texas community — after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School on May 24.

This involved a team of reporters in Uvalde and an entire newsroom in San Antonio ensuring new developments reached the affected.

A month later and reporting on this tragedy hasn’t stopped, as more details on how systems failed Robb Elementary are revealed.

Today you’ve accessed this exclusive content as a member of KSAT Insider. We promised to bring you closer to our newsroom when you joined the Insider program and this newly announced Reporter’s Notebook series is one way we’ll do that.

Below you’ll find a Q&A with Leigh Waldman, one of the KSAT 12 news reporters who delivered updates from Uvalde on May 24 and since. Through her experience, we invite you to learn about our role as journalists and members of this local community.

KSAT: What was your role on the day of the Uvalde school shooting?

LEIGH WALDMAN: I was one of the first reporters in Uvalde that day. Photojournalist Gavin Nesbitt and I arrived at the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center just before 3 p.m., hours after the shooting, to start gathering whatever information we could pass along to families and KSAT viewers.

What was the scene at Uvalde’s civic center, the designated reunification center?

Around 2 p.m. parents were told they could pick up their children at the civic center. By the time we got there, almost everyone had been picked up already. But there were still several families waiting around, moving between the inside and the outside of the building.

As the day grew later, families were rushing inside as others were leaving in tears, holding on to one another. The civic center was becoming a notification center. We stayed but moved away from the doors to give families their space, the news they were receiving was heartbreaking.

As the sun went down, the lawn in front of the civic center was filling with families waiting for news about their babies. Two dads approached us with photos of their daughters and asked if we knew anything… asked if we could share their photos.

Those fathers went inside the civic center to give their DNA (it was needed to identify their children). But their daughters weren’t coming home. It broke my heart.

I remember seeing the broadcast from that day and being impressed by your professionalism. With a story that shakes your core, was it difficult to stay composed?

I don’t think I stayed composed, and I don’t think composure was needed. I cried with families, hugged them, held their hands and prayed with them. That was what was needed at that moment. Journalists are people and people’s hearts were broken that day. I can’t think about it without getting teary-eyed.

Having spent days in Uvalde, what did you learn about this community?

It’s a cliché but it’s the truth, Uvalde is a tightknit community. It’s a community where everyone knows everyone in some shape or fashion. There’s a sense of shared grief throughout the city from the moment you reach the outskirts of town.

I learned this community will not be defined by this moment and these children will not be defined by how they were killed. They will be defined by how beautifully they lived and how triumphantly they stood together in the face of evil and won. Love will conquer all here. No one will rob them of that.

You shared online that you visited the memorial sites in Uvalde — what was the scene there?

The memorial site at the school, even almost a month later, is quiet. It feels like you walked into a church or onto sacred ground. There’s no laughter, there’s no joy. Only murmurs of prayers, bowed heads and muffled sobs.

The memorial site in downtown Uvalde seems to change by the day. I think in moments like this, everyone wants to do something so leaving a gift or a memorial of some kind seems to fit. There are notes from other cities where similar shootings happened and every time it shatters my heart knowing the beautiful city of Uvalde is now a part of this brotherhood of tragedy.

I saw you were in Washington, D.C., earlier this month for the U.S. House committee hearing on gun violence. What came out of that hearing?

At the hearing, we heard graphic testimony from Uvalde’s only pediatrician, who considers every child in that town his own. We heard from a brave young girl, Miah Cerrillo, about how she covered herself in her friend’s blood and played dead so she wouldn’t be killed. Her father also testified and said his baby girl isn’t the same anymore.

Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio’s parents testified virtually, they told us about her just three days before her funeral. Lexi’s parents called for gun control and real changes to happen in our country so no other parents have to feel their pain.

That day, the House signed off on one of the strictest gun reform packages in years.

What message do you have for the victims’ families and the Uvalde community?

I’m so sorry this happened. It never should have. You should be holding your babies, holding your loved ones and going on family trips this summer.

Your babies and Eva and Irma will not be forgotten and their names will not be tarnished by how they died. We’ll be with you every step of the way as you fight for change, fight for justice, and fight for the truth. You will never walk alone. I promise you that.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Don’t let this town be forgotten. As the news cycle moves on, don’t stop praying for Uvalde. Don’t stop sending messages of love. Don’t let this town and what happened here just become a yearly anniversary we all remember and get sad about.

Say these children’s names. Sav Eva and Irma’s names. Don’t forget their beautiful faces. Don’t forget about their families who continue to grieve. Extend love to others. Sincerely ask how they’re doing and truly listen when they tell you.

About the Authors:

Rocio Hernandez is the membership producer for KSAT Insider, a free membership program that strengthens the relationships between our newsroom and the communities we serve. Prior to joining the KSAT team, Rocio worked as a communications intern at the International Center for Journalists and fellow at The Texas Tribune.

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.