May 23, 2023 - World

Remembering Uvalde children's joy one year after shooting

Among 21 murals in Uvalde that pay tribute to the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, are these depicting (clockwise from top left) Jailah Nicole Silguero, Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos and Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo. Photos: Courtesy of Abel Ortiz

In Uvalde, reminders of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School — and the town's resolve in the face of tragedy — remain one year later.

Details: Crosses surround the bright blue fountain in a downtown square. Friends and family have left notes for their loved ones in English and Spanish, recalling yearbook signatures. Dried flowers cover the ground.

  • There are unmistakable signs of childhood placed alongside the crosses: a large plush shark for Maite Rodriguez, bubble wands for Annabell Rodriguez, Sour Patch Kids and Airheads for Amerie Jo Garza.
  • A giant stuffed lion for Uziyah Garcia has matted hair, like the other stuffed animals, presumably from their exposure to rain and sun.
  • A Mothers' Day balloon swings in the breeze next to a cross for Eva Mireles, a teacher killed in the shooting.
  • "Uvalde Strong" signs still sit in the windows of local businesses, where passersby can see the bold colors of murals reflected back at them.

There are other tributes to the 21 victims. Colorful murals are scattered throughout the South Texas town, one for each of 19 children and two teachers killed.

The big picture: Memorializing a traumatic event can help a community move forward, Abel Ortiz, a Uvalde-based artist and art professor at Southwest Texas Junior College who helped organize the mural project, tells Axios.

  • But memorials also must strike a balance so as not to further harm those affected.
  • Ortiz got consent and details from the victims' families for the murals.

The artists hope the murals offer a space for the victims' families to reflect and heal.

Zoom in: Alina De Leon worked as an assistant artist on the mural for 10-year-old Amerie. De Leon is from Uvalde and attended Robb Elementary, and is now graduating from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a degree in fine arts.

  • She also grew up across the street from Amerie's mother, and wanted to help the family.
  • In the mural, Amerie is surrounded by some of the things she loved — art, a Starbucks vanilla bean latte and Chick-fil-A eight-piece nuggets with fries.
  • The brightly-colored mural, sealed to protect from the hot Texas sun, serves as a regular reminder of Amerie's joys and passions.

What they're saying: "They're still kids at the end of the day," De Leon says. "They had a lot to look forward to. You want to keep that image of them — that they're still full of life."

  • "Murals are accessible. They are a form of street art that makes a public space an open air gallery," Ortiz tells Axios. "And they're very much there — meaning the bright colors hook you in, then you realize the colors are symbolic."

What's next: The Uvalde City Council has approved plans for a permanent memorial downtown, per the San Antonio Express-News. Family members of the victims were working with the city on designs.

  • However, demolition plans have been on hold as the district attorney has wanted to preserve the school as evidence.
  • De Leon will be glad to see the building go. Demolition doesn't mean anyone will forget, she says.
  • But she does want to see the lot where the school sits used in a way that benefits Uvalde, like as a community center.
A cross for Eva Mireles stands again a bright blue fountain in a square in downtown Uvalde, where other crosses sit around the pool to honor victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
A memorial to Eva Mireles, a teacher killed in the Robb Elementary shooting, stands in a downtown Uvalde square, surrounded by Mothers' Day mementos. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

Zoom out: Uvalde can consider how other cities memorialized mass shootings.

  • Daniel Krauss spent much of the last decade considering the best way to build a memorial in Newtown, Conn., to honor the 26 students and teachers killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. His daughter was in second grade at the time.
  • The memorial, which opened last fall, is a circular pool engraved with victims' names. A tree stands in the middle.

As chair of the memorial commission there, he learned along the way.

  • Listening to the community was important. Some people didn't want to see steel or glass used because those materials have a harsh connotation, Krauss tells Axios.
  • They took public feedback and kept their focus sharp.
  • "The most important opinions are the families that lost a loved one that day," Krauss tells Axios. "Their feelings were always put front and center."

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where Emily Peck, filling in for host Niala Boodhoo, and Madalyn Mendoza discuss the mental health support for the people of Uvalde.

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