Following the Uwalde shooting, the community faces long-term mental health needs

WWALDE – Lauren Bonn and Michelle Williams walked quietly through the crowd in front of the fragrant Memorial of Crosses and Roses days after the school’s worst shooting in a decade.

Their message: “There may be a triumph over the tragedy for you as a person. And we are here with you. You are not alone.”

They survived. The two survived Columbine, a 1999 shooting at a school in Colorado that will become a shorthand for the brutal massacres of innocent people.

Today in Uwalde, many have joined hands in support of much of the nearly 16,000 Mexican-American community, dealing with the deaths of 19 students and two teachers. Trauma experts say the road ahead will be difficult. Of great concern is the shortage of therapists in a rural area about 85 miles west of San Antonio and 60 miles from Rio Grande.

Bonn was 15 and Williams was 17 when two teenagers started shooting on April 20, 1999, killing 12 fellow students and a teacher. They became employees of the Red Rocks Church in Colorado and specialists in trauma that divided childhood in two – with the tragedy that defines life before and after.

Columbine High School survivor Lauren Bonn, 39, comforts Uwalde resident Alicia Luna, 14, after speaking with her in Uwalde Town Square, Texas, on Friday, May 27, 2022. Bonn flew from Littleton, Colorado to be with Uwalde community after the shooting at Rob Elementary School because she said they now have shared experiences.(Elias Valverde II / full-time photographer)

In the square in the center last week, Bonn, now 39, and Williams, 41, told their stories to people gathered to mourn. They introduced themselves gently and began conversations about what had happened in Colorado. Groups of young people responded. Some cried. Under the living oaks were group hugs tied with baby blue and purple ribbons.

Bonn and Williams tried to be optimistic. They carried handwritten signs that read, “We are Columbine. We are Rob. We are with you.”

Women wanted men to lean on each other – and there were many.

“Find your tribe, your people, with whom you can be honest in the dark days, and you will keep someone in their moments,” Bon said. “There is hope for tomorrow. Life will never be normal. That’s the new norm. “

Residents of Uwalde said they welcomed those who came from outside their city to help.

“I feel extremely shocked by the demonstration of support from everyone in the nation, just for our community,” said Trish Magdaleno, 49, who wore a Burgundy T-shirt with the words “Uvalde Strong”. “Everywhere, from law enforcement to the children to come. I mean, it’s just everything, not just money, just physical, physical, going down and saying, “We’re here for you.”

Diana Karau from Uwalde spends time with a therapy dog ​​named Tritan before vigil in ...
Diana Karau of Uwalde spends time with a therapy dog ​​named Tritan before a vigil in honor of the lives lost on Rob’s first day the day before at the Uvalde County Fairplex Arena, Wednesday, May 25, 2022 in Uwalde, Texas. (Josie Norris / The San Antonio Express-News via AP)(Josie Norris / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Injury management tools

San Antonio-based psychologist Amanda Ueteman-Romine came from San Antonio to talk to people in the city’s memorial square, the epicenter of mourning, where one can feel grief as he approaches.

Crosses a few feet high with the name of each victim are arranged with bouquets and teddy bears and unicorns.

The biggest obstacle will be time. It takes time to overcome the trauma, Uetemann-Romain said. “It’s going to be a lifelong job,” she said.

In Uvalde Square, Weteman-Romine distributed pamphlets prepared by another San Antonio therapist, Amanda Duran. This is a diary of grief.

The process of grief will be different for different people. Keeping a diary can be cathartic, especially for those who are uncomfortable talking, she said. “But grief is hard for everyone,” said Veteman-Romine, a high school graduate in Uwalde.

She was worried about the children, but also about the men, because they were socialized not to show feelings.

She was also worried about triggers, such as loud noises. The brain sticks to painful memories, Weethemann-Romine said, “because it’s trying to protect us and make sure this painful thing doesn’t happen again.”

Geneva Uriegas (center) holds her daughter Gabriela while they stand in front of the cross ...
Geneva Uriegas (center) holds her daughter Gabriela as they stand in front of the cross in honor of 10-year-old Tess Mata at the memorial to 19 children and two adults killed in a shooting at Rob’s Elementary School on Tuesday in the town square on Thursday, May 26. 2022, in Uwald, Texas. The family is joined by other girls who participated in gymnastics and football with Mata. (Juan Figueroa / full-time photographer)

People with post-traumatic stress may be overly sensitive to anything reminiscent of trauma, she said, but therapy can provide tools to help them cope. What helps is “verifying the facts, acknowledging that they are actually safe,” and that reduces anxiety, she said.

“Sometimes we don’t give priority to mental health treatment, especially in this condition, and we end up waiting for you to realize that we’re really struggling,” Weethemann-Roman said.

Need more advisors

There have been growing calls for the state to do more to ensure that people in places like Uwalde have access to the care they need.

After a press conference Friday with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a U.S. senator representing Uwalde, he focused on mental health and was outraged by the lack of resources dedicated to it.

“Give two million dollars to the community health clinic,” said Democrat Sen. Roland Gutierrez.

By Tuesday, Abbott, a Republican who would be re-elected, announced that he had made a disaster declaration for the town of Uwalde, a move that speeds up the resources of state and local health agencies. A spokeswoman said the declaration was actually issued on Friday.

Texas ranks last in access to mental health, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Mental Health America. It measures insurance rates for students who have suffered an “emotional disorder” and received care.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siler prays for a child during an emergency liturgy held at the Sacred ...
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siler prays for a child during an emergency service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church after nineteen children and two adults were killed in a shooting at Rob Elementary School on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uwalde, Texas . (Juan Figueroa / full-time photographer)

Catholic Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Sieler said he was also worried about how tense the councilors were. Garcia-Siler, who has a degree in psychology, said he saw fatigue on the faces of exhausted counselors at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uwalde. There, councilors talk to the children about what happened. Garcia-Siller told them that they should start working shifts and then rest.

The 65-year-old man has a new pain in his body and says he can only imagine how it should be for those with children. His next concern? “I’m sure the next phase will be anger,” Garcia-Siller said in a voice that sounded hoarse from so much talk. “And maybe this will be a crisis of faith.”

Meanwhile, the memorial in the town square continues to attract hundreds of people every day in acts of solidarity. It plays on all the senses. In its center is a bubbling fountain of water. There are candles with images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an icon of the Latin Catholic Church. Some have left favorite foods to loved ones, a tradition at Mexican altars during the Día de los Muertos. A large bag of spicy Takis chips and cups of noodles peek into flower nests.

Monument to the victim of the shooting at the primary school Rob Eva Mireles, 44, on the town square in ...
Memorial to the victim of the shooting at Rob Eva Mireles Elementary School, 44, in Uwalde Town Square, Texas, on Saturday, May 28, 2022.(Elias Valverde II / full-time photographer)

A message on the cross about the teacher Eva Mireles, who died trying to save her students, reads: “I will miss you forever, my beautiful mother – Adi.” She emphasized this with a little heart.

Another says: “Prayers for a better world for your familyPrayers for a better world for your family.

Cross for 10-year-old Anabel Guadalupe Rodriguez wore many rosaries in red, green, yellow, blue, purple and maroon. “God is with you,” reads an inscription.

Guide dog guides walked around the green grass in the square as small children ran to pet and hug the furry creatures.

For those moments, they were free to be children again.

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