Uvalde residents come together in wake of school shooting

Residents organise fundraisers, reach out to neighbours as entire community grapples with harrowing school shooting.

crosses are seen outside robb elementary school in uvalde, texas
The community of Uvalde came together to help after 19 children were shot dead by a gunman at the Robb Elementary School [Marco Bello/Reuters]

Uvalde, Texas, US – Lifelong Uvalde resident Shelly Pivoda, 59, was on the phone with a job applicant on Tuesday morning at the local Walmart where she works when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw an employee running towards her.

“There’s a shooting at Robb [Elementary School],” the woman yelled.

Minutes earlier, an 18-year-old man wielding an AR-15 rifle had begun a rampage that killed 19 children and two teachers — the deadliest school shooting in the United States since 20 young children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Massachusetts in 2012.

“We had parents and grandparents of children in the store,” Pivoda said. “They started running out.

“We immediately told the staff to do what they need to do and go where they need to go,” she said. “There were a lot of tears.”

Pivoda, a 37-year employee of Walmart whose father worked for the US Border Patrol, got a call from a friend in law enforcement a few minutes later. “Could you bring some water to Robb?” the friend asked.

Another Walmart employee helped Pivoda load up her 2016 Chevrolet Colorado pick-up truck with cases of water. She was at the school in 10 minutes.

Walmart employee in Uvalde
Shelly Pivoda made dozens of phone calls to check on employees of the Walmart on the day of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas [John Savage/Al Jazeera]

When she got back to the store, she started calling employees to check on them and ask if there was anything she could do — by 10pm she and a fellow employee had reached out to more than 100 people.

“The appreciation they showed for the calls was heartbreaking,” Pivoda said. “What do you say to someone who has lost a loved one? There’s nothing you can say to make it better.”

On Wednesday, Pivoda showed up to work at 6am. “I had to be here for the associates,” she said. “We’re still here for them. It’s what we do in Uvalde.”

‘We wanted to help the families’

Omar Rodriguez, 24, started a car detailing business two months ago on Main Street — a five-lane thoroughfare and business hub that bisects the community of about 16,000 mostly Latino residents.

Rodriguez’s business is connected with a used car dealership that sits across the street from a Sears Hometown appliance store and Billy Bob’s Hamburgers. “It’s going great,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been super busy, and I’ve hired some friends.”

One of those employees, a man with a fourth-grade child at Robb Elementary, called Rodriguez Tuesday morning as he was depositing checks at the bank.

“My son’s at Robb,” Rodriguez’s friend said.

“Let’s go,” Rodriguez said, “I’ll pick you up right now.”

They arrived at the school just before noon.

Omar Rodriguez washes a car during Uvalde fundraiser
Omar Rodriguez washes a car during a fundraiser on May 26 for the families of the victims of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas [John Savage/Al Jazeera]

“Officers were saying there’s an active shooter,” Rodriguez said. “We saw a couple of kids on the sidewalk with bullet holes.”

My friend started yelling, “Where’s my kid, where’s my kid?” Rodriguez recalled. “His kid was safe, but he didn’t find him until Tuesday night at the civic centre.”

The civic centre in downtown Uvalde served as a reunification point for families and children after the shooting.  The scene in front of the centre was chaotic on Tuesday as dozens of residents anxiously waited for news about their loved ones.

“We’re a community. We’re all close,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody knew someone in the school.”

Rodriguez sat in his Dodge pick-up truck Tuesday night trying to process the tragedy. “I was in there for a couple hours, crying and thinking about what I could do to help the families,” he said.

“We wash cars and we cook out all the time, so I came up with the idea for the fundraiser — washing cars and selling burgers and turkey legs,” he said. “We’re going to split the money up evenly among the 21 families who lost loved ones.”

On Wednesday, Rodriguez went to Uvalde Meat Market & Processing and bought about 250lbs (113kg) of hamburger meat and 250 turkey legs. “We filled up a big jacuzzi and bathtub with meat and 15 bags of ice,” Rodriguez said.

Uvalde residents set up a fundraiser with a big sign for a car wash
Volunteers prepare a fundraiser to aid families of the victims of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas [John Savage/Al Jazeera]

On Thursday morning, in between washing cars with two of his employees, Rodriguez prepared a large grill to cook everything up.

When asked what he hoped to accomplish, he teared up.

His mother, Guadalupe Salazar, 43, patted her son on the arm. “We wanted to help the families to be able to stay at home and comfort their [other] children,” Salazar said.

Rodriguez regained his composure as his mother spoke.

“This is not going to bring any kids back,” he said, “but we just wanted to give back in some way.”

Source: Al Jazeera