Arnulfo Reyes, a teacher, was in his class at Robb Elementary School when the Uvalde shooting began. He was shot repeatedly and spent more than a month in the hospital. Now he tells what happened.
JUANA SOMMERS HOSTING:
The sole survivor of 111 after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uwald, Texas is finally home. Teacher Arnie Reyes was greeted by a parade of cars, the smells of home cooking, and family and friends who took care of him around the clock. He says the community’s support is helping him cope after he lost 11 of his students that day. NPR’s Claudia Grisales reports.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, AUTHOR: The wind plays with the chimes outside Arnie Reyes’ apple green home. Inside, family and friends come and go.
ARNULFA REES: Do you need to come in bro? You can come in.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Of course.
GRISALES: Reyes relaxes in his chair, reminiscing about his first meal of bean and cheese tacos and what he misses most.
REES: Just the scent of my pillows; you know, the things you take for granted. And you say, I like how mom sautees onions to make noodles or something. It was kind of like closure for me, that I was home for treatment.
GRISALES: A fourth-grade teacher is back in Uvalde a month after the shooting at Robb Elementary School after 10 surgeries. He was greeted with a car parade in his honor and a steady line of volunteers bringing food, mowing his lawn and helping him get to meetings.
REES: This community has really, you know, come together and done so much together.
GRISALES: It’s a long, long way from where Reyes was on May 24, when a dark figure emerged from the depths of his classroom from the gunshots in the next room. Reyes ordered his students to get under their desks and close their eyes. And he was confronted by a gunman who shot him in the left hand. The deaths of 11 students haunt him.
REES: They are my children. They are my students. They are my children. They are my children. But the parents lost one child. Families lost one child. But I lost 11 that day.
GRISALES: After he was shot, Reyes fell to his stomach and appeared dead for more than an hour as the shooter sat nearby at a teacher’s desk, occasionally coughing in response to distant calls from police officers to speak to him. Reyes says the shooter splashed water on his back and then blood on the side of his face before shooting him again halfway through the ordeal.
REES: I think he just wanted to make sure everyone was dead. And I think that’s why he shot me in the back the second time, because he wanted to make sure.
GRISALES: By the time Reyes heard the officers come into the next room, he was fully prepared. Soon after, a Border Patrol agent was pulling Reyes by the cuff of his pants, yelling that he was heavy. Reyes’ sense of humor shines through even in the darkest of times.
REES: And I just thought to myself, man, I’m still alive. Don’t be so mean.
GRISALES: Reyes, a former student at Rob’s elementary school who himself tends to look forward, says he’s still haunted by the mistakes made that day. His door was malfunctioning and wouldn’t lock, and he asked several times to fix the problem. And he remains baffled by law enforcement delays.
REES: There’s really no excuse for 77 minutes.
GRISALES: He’s careful not to talk about the incident commander, school district police chief Pete Arredondo. Arredondo is his cousin, and they haven’t spoken since the shooting.
REES: I wish he would say I’m going to go there because it’s my family. But he didn’t do it.
GRISALES: Reyes also came to see other hardships, such as the outpouring of money that had been donated to possibly rebuild the school.
REES: Don’t wait for a tragedy to say, OK, here’s $10 million; now you can have a better school. Don’t wait for tragedy to strike. Do it now.
GRISALES: He’s also trying to deal with the reality that he didn’t save his students. During a parade outside his house in his honor, the mother of one of the slain students got out of her car to hug Reyes.
REES: She should have come and told me herself that no, it’s not my fault. I felt guilty in the sense that I regretted not saving her, but I did what I had to do. But I still felt guilty, like what else could I do?
GRISALES: Reyes says it refocused him. He’s not sure if he’ll return to teaching, and he still doesn’t have use of his left hand, so the idea of how his next journey will work isn’t fully formed yet, and it’s still a work in progress.
REES: I’m here. And a lot of what drives me through all of this is the love that I get from my community, the love that I get from my family, and the thought that I want things to happen for my students to they do not die in vain.
GRISALES: He says his love of community is helping him begin to deal with the nightmare of losing all 11 students in his class that day, students who felt like his own children.
By Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Uvalde, Texas.
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