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‘We Won’t Let These Babies Be Forgotten.’ Close-Knit Uvalde Community Grieves After Elementary School Shooting

4 minute read

One day after a gunman took the lives of 19 young children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, Robb Elementary School is at the center of a frenzy.

Members of the close-knit community hoping to pay their respects to those slain inside the school on Tuesday must work through several barriers to get close to the building. The surrounding roads are blocked by barricades and all nearby parking spots are taken. Throngs of journalists and media cameras have set up in front of the school. And then there’s the caution tape wrapped around the perimeter, followed by rows of law enforcement in large white vehicles investigating the crime scene.

Still, over the past day, dozens of people from Uvalde and neighboring towns have made their way past the obstacles to lay flowers on the “Welcome…Bienvenidos” sign perched in front of Robb Elementary.

“We won’t let these babies be forgotten,” one woman says after she and her partner lay their bouquet on the sign.

The people of the small town, population of about 16,000, are expressing their grief in a variety of ways after the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history rocked their community. They are gathering in churches, the local Starbucks, the community civic center, and the Uvalde County Fairplex to mourn together and remember the victims. Some are painting storefront windows with the phrase “Uvalde Strong.” Families and friends are embracing each other, or kneeling in front of the school in prayer.

Read More: The Uvalde School Shooting Devastated Two Classrooms. Here’s What We Know So Far

By about 7 p.m., the brick “Welcome” sign at Robb Elementary was covered in flowers, candles, and balloons. Thirteen-year-old Dariana Cervantes came with her father Humberto to leave a bouquet of red roses at the site at her old elementary school. “You could have never seen it coming,” she says, her voice shaky. “These kids just went to school thinking it’s a normal day, and then they get their lives taken away.”

Some of the Cervantes family’s friends, Dariana says, were among the panicked parents looking for their missing children on Tuesday night. “To go with no answers to where the kids are…it keeps you imagining and asking what happened,” she says.

When news of the shooting broke, Humberto, who has other young children, says he rushed from work to get to his kids’ elementary school in a different part of town, panicked that they were in danger. He had forgotten that they were out of town on a field trip in San Antonio. “We know most of the people who come to this school,” Humberto says. “We see them at the festivals, at the park, at the grocery store.” Everyone in the town, he says, was impacted by the shooting.

Read More: Guns Became the Leading Cause of Death for American Children and Teens in 2020

It wasn’t just people from Uvalde who felt anguished after the massacre. On Wednesday afternoon, a group of three friends gathered at the Town Square to hold up signs reading “Uvalde Strong,” “Prayers 4 Uvalde,” and “Remember their names.”

“I don’t want to just be on my phone watching everything come to light,” says Ravenn Vasquez, 21, a graduate of Uvalde High School holding one of the signs. “[We wanted to] do something so that people see us and know that we care.” Though Vasquez grew up going to school in Uvalde, her two friends are from neighboring towns, Knippa and Concan, both in Uvalde County. “One way or another, we’re all connected,” Vasquez says, because the cluster of small towns around Uvalde are all “very, very intertwined.”

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District held a vigil on Wednesday evening for members of the community. Press was not allowed to attend in order to provide more privacy to the grieving community. The line of cars heading to the vigil stretched back at least 2.5 miles—about half the length of the town.

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Write to Jasmine Aguilera/Uvalde, Texas at jasmine.aguilera@time.com