Violence has become so integrated into American society that most people are becoming indifferent to it. That’s not to say each tragedy isn’t horrific, it’s just that the human system isn’t designed to process the degree of horror as often as it keeps happening. According to The Washington Post, there have been 394 school shootings since 1999, with 360,000 students experiencing gun violence at their school. However, the Uvalde tragedy struck a nerve with me.

On May 24, 2022, an eighteen-year-old former student shot and killed nineteen students and two teachers, while injuring seventeen others, at the Robb Elementary School. My old college roommate, Kirby, and his family live in Uvalde. Was his family fine, I had to find out?

Kirby and I were roomies in the late 1970s and have remained friends, despite not seeing each other for over forty years. When we weren’t studying, we spent time cruising around in his 1968 Ranchero, double dating, or drinking beer. I have fond memories of our time together, falling asleep in our dorm room during the summer, to the sound of the Texas Rangers and a whirling fan; there was no air conditioning in the dorm.

While going to school in Texas, I spent at least two Thanksgivings with Kirby and his family in Uvalde, where he still lives. When I graduated with a degree in physical therapy, his mom gave me one of those fancy parker pen sets, and I still have it in the original box.  After school was over, I invited Kirby to my home in East Meadow, and we spent time out east and on Fire Island. A year or two later, he married a girl from school, Mary, who was from Philadelphia, and I drove to Philadelphia to attend the wedding. We did exchange letters for a while, but it was sporadic, over the course of forty-plus years. After the shooting, I got hold of his cell number, and reached out.

Uvalde, and for that matter the state of Texas, are special to me. I found the people warm and kind, and received a quality education at an affordable cost, even as a non-resident. I spent time in Dallas, Denton, Houston, and of course, Uvalde.

Uvalde is nestled eighty miles west of San Antonio, a town of around 16,000 people, largely Hispanic. On my second day there, after allowing for time to catch up and talk college days, Kirby took me for a ride around the city. We stopped in the center of town, parked, and walked through the memorial. There were crosses, flowers, and balloons surrounding a fountain. 

After shooting and severely wounding his grandmother earlier that day, the assailant drove to and entered the school, remaining in a classroom for more than an hour before members of the U.S. Border Patrol rushed forward and shot him dead. By God’s grace, Kirby’s grandson, who was in class two doors away, was evacuated and therefore unharmed. 

It was shocking to hear that police officers waited more than one hour and fourteen minutes at the scene before charging the classroom to engage the shooter.Law enforcement was heavily criticized for their response. Coincidentally, the  Attorney General, Merrick Garland, had met with the families of those killed on the day prior to my arrival, Wednesday, January 17, before a lengthy federal report into law enforcement’s response to the incident was released. 

We then drove to Rob Elementary School and stood in front of the school where crosses were displayed with the names and photos of the victims, all twenty-one of them.  Kirby said little, I felt like I could weep, but my sorrow was tempered with anger, and all I could do was stand there silently and pray. As we drove away, we spotted where the assailant had crashed his truck, then entered the school. 

On our way back through town, I noticed the larger-than-life portraits that were painted on the sides of many buildings. Kirby explained that these were victims of the shooting, and that artists had been commissioned from all over the country to come to Uvalde and graciously memorialize the victims. They were beautiful. 

Uvalde is the hometown of actor Matthew McConaughey, who took to social media to share his heartbreak over the tragedy. McConaughey offered prayers and urged Americans to reassess their values, saying, “we have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us.” I assume he was referring to guns.

Between recent gun legislation, the DOJ’s report on Uvalde, and renewed initiatives toward mental health awareness and prevention, one can only hope and pray that things will get better.

At least that’s what I prayed for at Rob Elementary School.

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