Students and teachers returned to school Tuesday in the heartbroken community of Uvalde, Texas, for the first time since 19 children and two educators were killed during a mass shooting at an elementary school in May.
As children return to the classroom, the town continues to mourn those who were killed and demand accountability in the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School during which law enforcement officers waited more than an hour before entering a fourth grade classroom where the gunman carried out the attack.
The first day brought anguish for parents whose children died in the massacre.
Steven Garcia, whose 9-year-old daughter, Eliahna, was killed, said he was an “emotional wreck” Tuesday morning, and felt a surge of anger.
“I couldn’t fight the tears but then I thought back to my Ellie and know she wouldn’t want me to feel that way,” he wrote in a post on social media.
“Thinking of all the first days of school with my Ellie, no one expects to have to bury their child after leaving them at school!!” he said in another post.
Jennifer Lugo, Ellie’s mother, said in a post the night before the first day of school that her “stomach was in a big knot” and she was sure the family would be leaving “the house with tears and not smiles.”
“I’m missing one of my babies,” she said, adding that Ellie loved school and was always excited to get up and get ready with her sisters.
Kimberly and Felix Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed, said ahead of the first day of school that they were frightened for their five other children.
“I don’t know that the school district has done everything that I’d like to see as far as security measures, but I also know it’s important for the kids to have some sort of routine, so trying to balance what’s best for them,” Kimberly said.
Lexi has been on her mind, she said, and meeting her youngest son’s teacher was incredibly difficult.
“It’s incredibly difficult to go on campus knowing that Lexi’s not going to be meeting a teacher this year,” Kimberly said.
Students across the state wore maroon to school Tuesday in support of the Uvalde community.
Robb Elementary has not reopened since the shooting, and its surviving students have been scattered to different schools in the area. The school district also added a virtual option this year for parents who didn't feel comfortable sending their children back into a classroom.
Parents arriving at some local schools Tuesday morning were greeted with taller fences, increased security and cameras, a larger law enforcement presence, more counselors and even emotional support dogs.
Outside Dalton Elementary School in Uvalde, Estera Ndayi said that one of her children had attended Robb Elementary at the time of the shooting and had received counseling because she was traumatized.
But Ndayi, whose children are 7 and 8 years old, said she felt safer with the added security measures.
“I’m on the positive side, so I hope what happened last year won’t happen again,” she said. “For right now, I think they’re in good hands.
Prekindergarten teacher Belinda Ramirez said she wasn't nervous about the start of the school year in the shadow of the tragedy. She's "happy that school is starting again," but also "just a bit sad" for the kids, she said.
Her nephew attended Robb Elementary last school year.
"We ask him and he just stays quiet, so I know he's a bit nervous. But we're happy that school is staring back up and once we start, I think it will all get better," she said. "We all have to just continue to move forward."
Late last month, Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo was fired by the Texas city’s school board, which voted unanimously to oust him.
The embattled chief's removal capped three months of outrage over the botched law enforcement response to the shooting at Robb Elementary.
One hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds passed from the time police entered the building May 24 until the gunman was killed, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has said.
A scathing report released in July by a Texas House committee investigating the mass shooting faulted “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making” by law enforcement and the school district.
Priscilla Bueno and her husband, Julio, have made helping their 10-year-old daughter's return to school a priority. The girl, Madison, was at Robb Elementary the day of the shooting.
The family has enrolled Madison in a private school, which they say made safety upgrades after the shooting.
“I want to just shelter her, as a mom, and just keep her home, but of course I don’t want her to live in fear,” Priscilla said