UVALDE, Texas – “How can you look at this girl and shoot her?” asked Angel Garza, the father of Amerie, during an interview with CNN. She was 10 years old, and was one of the 19 children murdered at the Robb Elementary school. “Oh my baby. How can you shoot at a baby?”
Angel Garza’s pain is immense. Incomprehensible. During the interview he was holding a photo of his daughter Amerie, with two hands, close to his heart. He was one of the first emergency responders at the scene, helping the children who survived the massacre. And he told Anderson Cooper that he learned his daughter was dead from a girl who was injured and covered in blood.
I have covered so many massacres in the United States that I almost lost count. But this one – in a predominantly Latino community in Texas – hit me especially hard. I have seen the toughest journalists cry here. Maybe it’s the terrible feeling that it could have happened to any one of us.
Mass shootings in this country have become a part of our daily life, and well know the protocols. First, it’s the surprise and shock, then the police and the president speak, then denials and prayers followed by proposals to change the gun laws. And in the end … nothing.
The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado woke us up to what had been unimaginable: the brutal mass murder of children and adolescents. And after the 2012 murder of 20 children and six teachers at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, many of us naively believed that was the limit. It was not. In 2018, 17 more were murdered in another school in Parkland, Florida, near my home.
That changed the lives of Manuel and Patricia Oliver. Their son, Joaquin, 17, died in that massacre. The parents are now gun control activists, and have been highly critical of those who only offer prayers after a massacre. “Some (politicians) will say, ‘Our hearts go out to the families,’” Manuel wrote on social media after the Uvalde massacre. “But you know what? Those families don’t need their freaking hearts. What they need is their children. And their children are not here any more.”
I went around several parts of Uvalde, slowly, and almost never have I felt such a concentration of pain. There is, above all, one question. Why? “I don’t understand how a human being can shoot a kid in the face,” Irene Salinas, a teacher at the Robb school who taught many of the children killed, told me. That is not human. It is worse than an animal.”
Help and solace are arriving from everywhere. Church people from Mexico and nearby towns are here. The archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo García Siller, comforted a father in a hospital who was told his daughter had died. “We leaders have failed,” he told me. “This is the fruit of a society we created. A society of death, not of life. Of course I am angry, because the leadership is so poor. The United States is in cultural and social decline.”
Despite the anger and the outrage, nothing will change. I have lost my optimism. This does not depend on President Joe Biden or any other single person. There are not enough Senate votes to approve gun controls, to ban the sale of military-style weapons, not even to require background checks. The National Rifle Associations finances many politicians unwilling to risk their seats on a single vote.
Hard-right politicians, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, prefer to focus on mental health reasons. But an 18-year-old boy like Salvador Ramos, the Uvalde massacre shooter – with mental and family problems would not be the same danger to the community without access to an AR-15 rifle.
This kind of massacre is a typically US phenomenon. No other part of the world has similar massacres, with the lethality and frequency we have here. And not with 10-year-old children as victims. Poet Amanda Gorman said it best on Twitter: “Only a monster kills children. But to see monsters kill children, again and again, and do nothing is crazy and not human.”
There are times, during the coverage of this massacre, when I have been left without words. And without strength. I watch the video again of Angel Garza talking about his daughter Amerie and I have to hit pause. It’s too much. It shatters any heart.