School Climate & Safety Photo Essay

Photos: A Year of Grieving and Struggling for Answers After Uvalde School Shooting

By Evie Blad — May 23, 2023 3 min read
A mourner stops to pay his respects at a memorial at Robb Elementary School, created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting, June 9, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.
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A year after a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two adults in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, the community is still searching for answers.

The shooting at Robb Elementary is the deadliest school shooting in Texas history and the most fatal school attack in the country since the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn.

In this photo essay, Education Week shares some of the indelible images taken as Uvalde residents confronted their grief, advocated for change, and commemorated the lives lost last year.

A community starts to grieve

Uvalde community groups and churches held vigils and impromptu gatherings in the immediate aftermath of the attack. It was just the first instance of what has become a daily ritual for family and community members.

Survivors of previous school shootings have said grieving is a lifelong process and annual commemorations can be especially difficult.

Kladys Castellón prays during a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.
People visit a memorial set up in a town square to honor the victims killed in the elementary school shooting earlier in the week in Uvalde, Texas, on May 28, 2022.

Tragedy provokes national response

The Uvalde tragedy quickly sparked a national response that fell along achingly familiar lines: whether to address gun laws or “harden” schools through increased security measures.

“I am sick and tired of it,” President Joe Biden said that evening. “We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.”

A week later, Biden called on Congress to pass new gun laws, including a ban on assault-style weapons like the powerful rifle used in the attack. No such law was passed, but Congress approved the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which included new funding for school safety and mental health and new restrictions on guns, like an enhanced background check for buyers under 21.

State legislatures around the country debated measures to “harden schools” through armed security and technology like weapons detectors at building entrances. The Texas senate passed a bill Sunday that would create additional state requirements for schools’ safety plans.

Copies of the Uvalde Leader-News with a black front page showing the date of the Robb Elementary School shooting are seen at a market in Uvalde, Texas, on May 26, 2022.
Actor Matthew McConaughey holds an image of Alithia Ramirez, 10, who was killed in the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, as he speaks during a press briefing at the White House on June 7, 2022, in Washington.

Parents press for answers

Parents of Uvalde students and family members of those killed have repeatedly pushed for more transparency about what happened that day, and more accountability for those involved in the response. They have fought with state and local officials for records, including body camera footage, recordings from security cameras, reviews of law enforcement’s response, and other investigatory materials.

It took 376 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies—some carrying ballistic shields and other tactical gear—76 minutes to breach the targeted classrooms and confront the gunman, a state investigation found.

The Uvalde school board eventually fired district police Chief Pete Arredondo after investigators found he failed to coordinate an on-scene response, despite being directed to do so under the school’s safety plan.

Rachel Martinez carries her son and a protest sign as she attends a city council meeting, Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. A Texas lawmaker says surveillance video from the school hallway at Robb Elementary School where police waited as a gunman opened fire in a fourth-grade classroom will be shown this weekend to residents of Uvalde.

An emotional push for new gun laws

Many Uvalde families joined others affected by school shootings in advocating for tougher gun laws, including measures that would close loopholes in background checks and ban the sale of assault-style weapons.

In June, Miah Cerrillo—a 4th grader who was in one of two adjoining classrooms where the attack occurred—told a congressional committee in a prerecorded video how she survived the attack by smearing herself with a friend’s blood and playing dead until the danger passed.

Some Uvalde families continue to advocate for new gun laws, joining with family advocates from previous school shootings in communities like Parkland, Fl., and Newtown.

Miah Cerrillo, a fourth grade student at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and survivor of the mass shooting appears on a screen during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2022.
Families of the Uvalde victims silently protest Senate inaction and mass shootings following the six-month anniversary of the Robb Elementary School massacre on Dec. 06, 2022 in Washington.
Families of the Uvalde victims silently protest Senate inaction and mass shootings following the six-month anniversary of the Robb Elementary School shooting on Dec. 06, 2022 in Washington.

A community remembers

As Uvalde students returned to school for the 2022-23 school year, their first time in classrooms since the tragedy occurred, the community took steps to memorialize the event.

Artists painted murals of the slain students around town. Robb Elementary will be demolished—a difficult decision because of the layered symbolism of the school.

As Education Week wrote in September, students there staged a walkout to push for equity for Mexican-American students in the 1970s.

Now that pride in the town’s past would is joined by pain as residents considered its future in the wake of the shooting.

Uvalde's History

Palm trees are visible around the water tower in Uvalde, Texas, on July 20, 2022.
Palm trees surround the water tower in Uvalde, Texas. The town is the site of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
Jordan Vonderhaar for Education Week
Equity & Diversity In Uvalde, Pain Where There Once Was Pride
Ileana Najarro, August 16, 2022
12 min read
Maria Castanon Hernandez poses for a portrait at her home in Uvalde, Texas, on July 20, 2022.
Maria Castañon Hernandez, who attended Robb Elementary School and later became and teacher and counselor in the Uvalde school district, at her home in Uvalde, Texas.
Jordan Vonderhaar for Education Week

Students arrive at Uvalde Elementary, now protected by a fence and Texas State Troopers, for the first day of school on Sept. 6, 2022, in Uvalde. Students in Uvalde are returning to campuses for the first time since the shootings at Robb Elementary where two teachers and 19 students were killed.
Artists work on a mural to honor Amerie Jo Garza, a student who was killed in the shootings at Robb Elementary school last month, on July 17, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

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