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Commentary: We were all damaged by Uvalde

Hundreds of flowers, toys and candles surround a memorial in June for the 21 victims killed in the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde.
Evan L'Roy
The Texas Tribune
Hundreds of flowers, toys and candles surround a memorial in June for the 21 victims killed in the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde.

When news broke that there was a school shooting in nearby Uvalde, I didn’t want to go cover it.

I had been one of the first reporters on the scene at the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting that took 26 lives. I had witnessed the deep, heaving cries of family members as they received the worst news imaginable.

Other TPR reporters headed to the scene, and I opted to cover the story from the newsroom. I knew the routine: Scrape the internet for clues about the suspected gunman from his social media accounts, gather background on the school district’s policies for school shooters, and record and cut up the streamed press conferences to then pump out newscast stories about the developing tragedy.

The news kept getting worse and worse. I soon found that not actually being physically present in Uvalde wasn’t going to protect me from the horror there. I wasn’t the only one that realized this. This was true for everyone who heard the news of the shooting. The gunman’s intent was to inflict as much harm as possible on the world by committing the cruelest act possible. And so we were all harmed by Uvalde.

Of course, our level of hurt is not comparable to that of the parents and relatives who lost their loved ones that day. Nevertheless, everyone was damaged by Uvalde.

Mass shootings have become somewhat routine in Texas, and there is now a prefabricated agenda for how they will be presented to the public. It has become a performance, and everyone knows their role. No information about the shooter or the casualties are to be released until Gov. Greg Abbott arrives in his helicopter and holds the big press conference.

This time, with Uvalde, we were at first told of the heroic police officers and that as bad as this shooting was, “it could have been worse.”

But after reporters kept digging, it became clear it was worse, and the first responders weren’t heroic. They huddled in the hallway for more than 70 minutes while children and teachers bled out.

We heard excuses that they didn’t have the needed weapons or armor. Then we found out they had everything they needed — except courage.

We were told they didn’t know that children were still alive waiting to be rescued. Then we found out the students were calling 911 and pleading for help. Then we learned when law enforcement finally entered the classroom and put down the gunman, there was breakdown in the medical response. Some of the wounded children had to be taken to the hospital in a school bus.

After Uvalde there have been calls for accountability.

I went to Uvalde to cover this part of the story. I reported on the heartbroken families who protested for days demanding improved school safety and the firing of those who failed their children.

A few people lost their jobs. And there has been public shaming. These were small victories in the middle of a terrible time.

But how will that prevent the next Uvalde?

A state senate special committee recently released its recommendations to counter school mass shootings — which basically called for hardening school campuses and arming teachers (and calling them school marshals) along with improved training and expansion of an unproven social media monitoring program.

It didn’t recommend raising the age to 21 to buy an assault rifle or passing a school shooting red flag law which is what the parents of Uvalde want.

They know in their gut wrenching grief that, as bad as it is to lose a child in a school shooting, it is worse to know others will follow.

There will be more mass shootings in Texas. And we’ll follow the routine.

Newsrooms will scramble to cover the story. The governor will arrive in his helicopter. And little brightly painted coffins will be lowered into the ground. Until people have had enough.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi