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Relief of parents of children who survived Uvalde school shooting gives way to guilt over those who didn’t

“It’s hard to describe," said a mother who picked her daughter up early, "because we are very blessed ... but at the same time you can’t be happy."
Amber Gonzales and Albert Martinez
Amber Gonzales, 25, and Albert Martinez, 23, with their 6-month-old daughter, say the Uvalde shooting has traumatized another daughter who was at the school.Suzanne Gamboa/NBC News

UVALDE, Texas — Amber Gonzales' 8-year-old daughter heard the shots when a gunman charged into Robb Elementary School and opened fire, killing 19 children and two teachers.

Gonzales knows this because her daughter survived and told her.

“I’m so thankful that my daughter made it home," Gonzales, 25, told NBC News on Wednesday.

Her daughter heard the gunshots from another part of the school. She hid under her desk as did other students as they barricaded in their classroom and heard a teacher banging on the door to be let in. She and her classmates managed to escape through a side door.

"But I feel selfish saying that," Gonzales said about expressing her thanks for having her daughter back, "because some of these kids didn’t make it."

She is not alone.

Rosa Arizmendi, 34, is wading through the joy of having her daughter safe with her — she brought her home early after an awards ceremony at the school — and the pain of losing her niece, Eliahna Garcia, as well as friends of her children.

Rosa Arizmendi
Rosa Arizmendi.Liz Moskowitz for NBC News

“It’s hard to describe because we are very blessed and lucky that we did take our daughter out before, but at the same time you can’t be happy,” she said.

"Why didn't I take her with me?"

Her mother, Rosa Menchaca, began to cry as she expressed the emotional conflict she, too, is feeling. “I feel sorry for all the families, and I thank God for my granddaughter and then I feel selfish,” she said.

Roland Arizmendi said the image of his niece waving to him and softly saying “hi” through her smile gnaws at him.

He said he’s been asking himself, "Why didn’t I take her with me? Why didn’t I ask her mom if I could take her when I took my daughter?"

Though their children escaped harm, both families said the shooting has left their children deeply traumatized.

Gonzales and her boyfriend, Albert Martínez, 23, who was pushing their 6-month-old daughter in stroller after the vigil, said the two months of summer vacation will be over too soon for their 8-year-old daughter.

“She doesn’t want to go back,” Gonzales said. Their 7-year-old son attends another school.

“These kids died in their classroom,” she said. “How do you go back to that?”

Gonzales wants to see more security at the school. "If they aren't going to do anything about these gun laws, they have to make the schools more secure," she said.

Asked if she worried schools would become like prisons, she responded, "Better than her being dead."

After a vigil Wednesday night, a man guided his young daughter back to the car with his arm around her. The little girl sobbed and could be heard crying, “Why Daddy? Why?”

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