‘One Year In: Uvalde’ — The Loss

KSAT 12 interviewed survivors, families of victims, policymakers and residents for project dedicated to Uvalde community

In the past year, 21 families have lived through holidays, birthdays and anniversaries without their loved ones.

This story is part of KSAT’s interactive project “One Year In: Uvalde,” which honors victims and survivors of the Robb Elementary School shooting on May 24, 2022.

In the past year, 21 families have lived through holidays, birthdays and anniversaries without their loved ones.

The milestones they’ve faced and the bonds they’ve created with other victims’ families have been bittersweet as they try to grapple with their new reality.

Instead of holding birthday celebrations in the backyard or at a restaurant, they gather by gravesites. Springtime travel became trips to the Texas Capitol to advocate for stricter gun laws. Children’s bedrooms transitioned to altars of remembrance.

In looking back on a year since the shooting, several families sat down with KSAT to reflect on their loved ones and discuss recovery.

Life will never be the same, they said, but they are finding ways to remember the 21 lives lost through their passions and advocacy.

The Eva Strong Memorial Run was held in March for slain teacher Eva Mireles’ birthday. The Makenna Elrod Seiler roping competition and scholarship presentation was held in April to honor the girl who loved horses.

Amerie’s parents, Angel Garza and Kimberly Garcia, honored their daughter’s “Forever 10″ birthday with art therapy. Art was Amerie’s gift to the world; her family said she loved to paint, draw, make flowers and play with clay.

“Anything with her little hands,” her grandmother Dora Mendoza said.

She would have turned 11 on May 10. For her birthday, Amerie’s family set up tables for painting at the town square, where a memorial was set up for the victims, so people could gather and remember what she loved.

“It’s still super hard because, at the end of the day, she’s not going to be there with us,” Garcia said.

In honor of Amerie Jo Garza's birthday, her family held art therapy at the town square. (ksat)

Parents said the tragedy feels like decades ago, while also feeling like it’s been mere weeks.

“I always hear that time heals all wounds, but time goes by and the wound is still there. And the pain is there, the emptiness is there,” Garcia said.

Sandra Torres, Eliahna Torres’ mother, said she’s feeling the signs of the one-year mark — sleepless nights and the constant “what-ifs.”

It feels unreal, she said, but she’s holding on to her faith in God. It’s what keeps her going.

“It’s hard to live without her, sometimes it’s even hard just to breathe. Just the thought of her, she’s never coming back,” she said.

Torres said when they moved into a new house after the shooting, she made sure Eliahna had her own room, something she always wanted.

Her room is lined with pictures, drawings and tributes, and she finally has her princess-style canopy bed. Eliahna, who was hoping to make it to the All-Star team before she passed, was honored by the Houston Astros with a signed jersey, which now hangs near her softball memorabilia.

Eliahna was in her first year of softball. She wanted to quit on the first day, Torres said, but the sport ended up becoming “everything to her.”

“I let her know and reassured her that no matter if she made it or not that she would always be an All-Star in my eyes, and I would always be her No. 1 fan,” Torres said. “That’s the last time I heard her say ‘I love you’ to me.”

Eliahna Torres' bedroom is filled with pictures, drawings, tributes and softball memorabilia. (ksat)

Not only did May 24, 2022, mark a day of tragedy in Uvalde, it also marked the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.

Since, families have pushed for accountability from law enforcement as well as gun reform from the Texas Legislature.

Families have vowed to never stop fighting for change, even in the face of continuing gun violence.

Brett Cross, Uziyah Garcia’s guardian, said he’s not afraid of being a nuisance. He’s not going to let his son be a statistic, he said, believing that Americans are desensitized to gun violence.

“It happens. It happens and it tears you apart. It tears apart everything that you’ve ever lived, loved and cared for, it tears apart your day-to-day,” he said. “It tears apart your thoughts. And so I’m not going to let that happen.”

Uvalde is far from the only community that’s been ripped apart by a mass shooting.

Since the start of 2023 alone, there have been 23 mass killings in the U.S., about one a week, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. Mass killings in this case are classified as involving four or more fatalities, not including the perpetrator.

On May 6, a 33-year-old man killed eight people, including three children, when he opened fire outside an outlet mall in Allen, near Dallas. On March 27, a 28-year-old woman shot through the doors of The Covenant School in Nashville and killed three adults and three 9-year-old students.

KSAT spoke with the Crosses on the day after the Nashville shooting. Nikki Cross, Uziyah’s guardian, said learning about the tragedy took her back to May 24, 2022.

They know exactly what those and other families of mass shooting victims face: no privacy, “dark days” and the longing for answers.

Even after a year of advocacy for gun reform and awareness, Brett Cross said it seemed all their work was dismissed with yet another shooting.

Brett and Nikki Cross, the guardians of Uziyah Garcia, speak with KSAT 12 News. (KSAT)

Nikki Cross recalled when families and survivors of previous mass shootings apologized to her, saying they felt like they had failed.

She didn’t understand why they were the ones apologizing. Then the Nashville shooting happened.

“I knew exactly why they felt that way, because here I was 10 months into this, putting my whole life into this, and then another shooting took more children,” she said. “So I know that now. It does kind of feel like I failed, like I hadn’t worked hard enough, like, what can I do more so this doesn’t keep happening?”

“Unfortunately, they joined a very large family in the United States that no one wants to be a part of, ever.”

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About the Authors:

Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.

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.