UVALDE, Texas — Javier Cazares is haunted by the 30 minutes or so that passed after his 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn, was shot and before law enforcement officers finally confronted the gunman firing an AR-15 inside Robb Elementary School.
“She wasn’t shot in the very beginning. She was shot somewhere in the middle. If they had gone in 30 minutes, 40 minutes" earlier, he said in an interview, "maybe she could still have been alive.”
A total of 73 minutes passed before law enforcement stopped the 18-year-old armed with an assault rifle.
The loss has been worsened, according to Cazares, by the refusal of people in power to take responsibility for their failures, to fill in the details for the grieving parents who need to know more about what happened each minute of that deadly day, to own up to fateful mistakes and remove those who made them, to make sure the families get the support they need when they need it, and to change gun laws.
“The first couple months, you know, it still seemed unreal," he said. "And now, it’s like betrayal.”
This week, the families of the 19 children and two teachers who were slaughtered May 24 last year are marking that day of death.
But when the commemoration is done, they will go back to agonizing about how long law enforcement waited before finally confronting the gunman.
For them, time is a deep, dark black hole.
“My daughter, she was one of the victims who came out and went to the hospital. She did have a heartbeat,” Cazares said. “That’s where I’m really the most hurt, because they could have done things and for whatever reason, it cost my daughter her life. She could have lived. Not just her, I mean one or two other kids in her class.”
After the shooting, Cazares sat stunned in an auditorium hearing Texas officials praise the swift law enforcement response. He knew better.
“I was there and heard the gunshots around 12:20 … I didn’t see nobody rush in. I saw it. I was in the school perimeter and I did not see anybody go in like they said ... I told that to the media and I told that to Abbott himself,” he said, referring to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Cazares got to the hospital about 15 minutes after his daughter was taken there, but nobody in the facility knew where she was, he said. He showed pictures of her and messages from her, but got no answers. Three hours later, he was called in to identify her. He asked to see her wounds. He had to know how she died, he said.
A report released last July after a Texas House committee investigation into law enforcement's response to the shooting concluded that “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue."
Jacklyn was a giver, and was a compassionate and emotional person, Cazares said. Every time the family went to San Antonio, she would find a homeless person and tell her mom or dad they needed to help the person. She once asked her brother for money so she could start a savings account for her sister, Jazmin, to go to college, he said.
“She had a heart of gold, just full of love and everyone that came across her, or crossed her path, they just felt it,” he said. “We don’t want her death to be in vain.”
Initially, authorities had said that a school police officer had confronted the gunman. They gave conflicting accounts of how the law enforcement response — made up of some 400 officers — unfolded.
Begging, pressuring and hoping
Parents have been fighting for a full accounting, but a promised city investigation hasn’t happened and a lot of information is bottled up in the district attorney's own investigation.
As some facts have come out, they've often contradicted “official” versions of what happened. Jesse Rizo, Jacklyn's uncle, said he feels the trickling out of facts are the spirits of the slain children answering the questions of their parents and loved ones.
Rizo, who has joined Cazares in his activism for accountability and reform, said the year after the massacre has been a series of letdowns.
“All of these things are coming down the pipeline and you are like, damn, that’s a letdown, that’s a letdown, that’s a letdown. And so you begin to wonder if you have it wrong,” he said. “What am I doing? Why am I not good enough to convince these people that their actions are wrong. For a little bit, you start believing that.”
But Rizo said they somehow re-energize to keep up their fight, because they are trying to save somebody else’s life, prevent someone else’s grief. "That’s the reason to hope," he said. "Hope and faith is the only thing we have left."
The Uvalde shooting was one of the deadliest in history since 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. It was preceded in 2018 by a shooting at the high school in Santa Fe, Texas, in which eight students and two teachers were fatally shot. It was followed by this month’s mass shooting at an outlet mall in Allen, Texas, in which the shooter killed eight people.
And yet, the Uvalde children and teachers’ families and some relatives of the Santa Fe victims had to beg their elected legislators to hold a hearing on a bill that would change the age for purchasing assault weapons from 18 to 24.
They had to pressure those officials to vote the bill out of committee and they had to watch time run out on getting the bill scheduled for a vote. They had to witness their elected officials rebuff attempts to resuscitate the bill as an amendment to other legislation.
Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, has been the families' advocate introducing and championing legislation to change gun laws and make other changes.
"It is a shame the Legislature lacks the political courage to stop the killing of our kids," he said in a statement last Thursday after another rejection of a bill amendment that would raise the age for buying assault weapons.
The puzzle remains unsolved
Texas Democratic Rep. Joe Moody was the vice chair of the Texas House committee that investigated the response to the Uvalde shooting. His city of El Paso was the site of a mass shooting in 2019 in which 23 people were killed and 22 injured.
He visited Robb Elementary for the investigation, he said at the April legislative hearing, where families learned the shooter had written "LOL" in his victims blood on a whiteboard.
Art the children had made before the attack hung in the hallways.
The art was interrupted by “holes the size of my fist blown through the walls,” Moody said. “There were bullet holes through the TV that the kids were watching that day and desks turned over as makeshift shields ... That was a mass grave for the tiny bodies of kids who died screaming as they held on to one another.”
“For those parents and families, the world ended that day,” he said. “The way time sits over them is a memory of when things made sense.”
As time passes, the picture is getting fuzzy, yet the puzzle of what happened remains unsolved, Rizo said.
Getting deeper details from law enforcement and investigators would show “my child mattered,” he said. “If you can give me that, it shows my child mattered to you. If you can’t give me that, if you don’t want any of that, it means my child is meaningless to you.”
“How could I go to Jackie and explain to her when we see each other again in heaven? What if she were to ask me what happened?” Rizo said.
He finished his comments as a conversation with her: “I say, 'I don’t know, Jackie.' 'Did I matter?' 'I don’t know. Guess we have to wait for Mr. Patterson or Mr. Harrell to get here.' That’s the stuff that plays in your head,” he said, referring to Uvalde’s interim school superintendent, Gary Patterson, and its retired school superintendent, Hal Harrell.
Cazares told Texas legislators at the hearing last month that he thinks about what would be going through his daughter’s head as she observes the days since the shooting. She’d likely be asking, “’Why all the sadness? … I try to tell everyone that I’m OK. I raise my voice louder and louder but no response. Why can’t anyone hear me? Is it because of the loud voices inside my classroom or is it the long beep coming from the heart monitor?”
These are the names of the 19 children and two teachers for whose families time has stopped:
Nevaeh Bravo, 10
Jacklyn Cazares, 9
Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10
Eliahna "Ellie" Amya Garcia, 9
Irma Garcia, teacher, 48
Uziyah Garcia, 9
Amerie Jo Garza, 10
Xavier Lopez, 10
Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10
Tess Marie Mata, 10
Maranda Mathis, 11
Eva Mireles, teacher, 44
Alithia Ramirez, 10
Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10
Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10
Alexandria "Lexi" Aniyah Rubio, 10
Layla Salazar, 11
Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
Eliahna A. Torres, 10
Rojelio Torres, 10