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Two years later, under-resourced Uvalde grapples with the aftermath of a school shooting

Mom Gloria Cazares and daughter Jazmin Cazares tidy up victim Jackie Cazares' grave a week before the two-year mark of the shooting.
Kayla Padilla
Mom Gloria Cazares and daughter Jazmin Cazares tidy up victim Jackie Cazares' grave a week before the two-year mark of the shooting.

Friday, May 24, 2024, marked two years since a teenage gunman burst into adjacent classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and began shooting.

The gunman killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers in one of the worst school shootings in the United States. Two years later, the small Texas city is still recovering.

Caitlyne Gonzalez was only 10 years old when the shooting took place. One of the children killed was her best friend, 9-year-old Jackie Cazares.

“I met her at school, and I would always just talk to her. She was always so nice to everybody,” Caitlyne said.

In the weeks following the shooting, Caitlyne and her mom, Gladys Gonzalez, began attending rallies to help advocate for gun control legislation.

The Gonzalez and Cazares families knew each other before the shooting. In the days before the two-year mark, Jackie’s mom, Gloria Cazares, and her 19-year-old daughter, Jazmin, cleaned Jackie’s grave.

Since the shooting, they pushed for gun reforms in Texas, including efforts to raise the minimum gun purchase age to 21 — efforts that have failed.

Caitlyne Gonzalez with Texas politician Beto O'Rourke.
Courtesy photo
Gladys Gonzalez
Caitlyne Gonzalez with Texas politician Beto O'Rourke.

Jazmin Cazares said it was heartbreaking to see her sister’s best friend, now 12, become an activist at such a young age.

“I can’t imagine the things she’s done and seen as not even a teenager yet. The experience of the shooting, and fighting for her friends afterwards — absolutely heartbreaking,” she explained.

Echoing other mass shootings, the phrase Uvalde Strong was adopted right after the killings to promote strength and unity in this small city of 15,000 people. It was painted on the sides of buildings and printed on T-shirts.

But Jazmin Cazares said two years later, many here have lost interest in seeking accountability for the botched police response. Some, she said, even started seeing the more activist-oriented families as “troublemakers.”

“Slowly after that, when we started getting into like firearm safety and gun violence prevention, is where the divide really happened, and even more divide than there was before the shooting,” Cazares added.

Many in this majority-Latino community carry the weight of trying to help their children process their trauma, while also trying to put food on the table.

And there’s limited access to mental health and other support resources. Caitlyne and her mother said they’ve cycled through multiple therapists.

“I had a counselor. Counselors! We’re counselor-hoppers. I had one, she was virtual, but it was only for like 20 minutes,” Caitlyne said.

"Uvalde Strong" painted across a car dealership building.
Kayla Padilla
'Uvalde Strong' painted across a car dealership building.

A recent settlement between families of the victims and the city and county of Uvalde included pledges to increase mental health services. The combined $4 million agreement also included training and other reforms to the Uvalde Police Department.

The families also filed suit against 92 Texas state troopers who were part of the botched police response. More than 370 federal, state and local officers converged on the school but waited more than 70 minutes before confronting and killing the shooter.

At the event announcing the settlement and lawsuit, Jackie Cazares’ father, Javier, addressed the community.

“On the way over here, I saw the sticker, which I see everywhere, 'Uvalde Strong.' If that was the case, this room should be filled and then some, showing your support," he said.

He added that “It’s been an unbearable two years.”

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