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Lisa-Marie Gervais in Uvalde

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  • United States

Two million US dollars for 21 stolen lives. “It will never be enough,” said Javier Cazares, the father of nine-year-old Jackie, who died in the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. However, this is the agreement reached by the families of the victims and the City a few days before the second anniversary of the killing, during which a mad shooter opened fire, assault weapon in hand, taking lives. 19 children and two teachers. Lawsuits worth several hundred million dollars against various police forces in the State of Texas will also be filed.

In a hoarse, almost dead voice, this resident of Uvalde, a small town of some 16,000 inhabitants, spoke of an “obvious systemic failure” that occurred on this dark May 24, 2022. “The the whole world saw it, he said in front of an audience of journalists. But no amount of money is worth the lives of our children. »

At the start of the press conference held to announce the agreement, in an almost religious silence, around twenty relatives of the victims first entered in single file, staring blankly at the forest of cameras trained on them, in the large, overly air-conditioned room of the community center.

“These families here before you were among those praying for their children to be alive,” said the bereaved families’ lawyer, Josh Koskoff. “They were the last families left standing two years ago,” he added, implying that these were the families who ultimately never got to hug their children again.< /p> Uvalde, Texas, two years later

Photo: Adil Boukind Le Devoir The lawyer for the bereaved families, Josh Koskoff, speaks to the media during the announcement of the agreement reached between them and the City of Uvalde.

77 minutes too long

In a solemn tone, the lawyer listed several of the largest mass killings in recent years in the United States, including that of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 – the deadliest in a school, leaving 26 dead -, before virulently attacking the hundreds of officers from different police forces deployed that day. “They were the last line of defense for these children, but they failed,” he said angrily. It had to be a strong opponent for 376 officers [to be deployed]. But no, it was for a teenager (“a kid”). »

During all this time, Salvador Ramos, who had acquired assault rifles just days after his 18th birthday, held back 376 heavily armed and trained officers, Koskoff recalls.

“Of course, [confronting the shooter] was a heroic act. But 77 minutes too late,” adds the lawyer.

The day after the killing, the police operation was severely criticized – firstly the slow reaction of the officers, who waited more than an hour before deciding to enter the school to subdue the killer. Last January, a 600-page investigation report carried out by the federal Department of Justice concluded that there had been a “failure” on the part of the authorities caused, among other things, by problems with training, communication and leadership. “No disciplinary measures were taken against these agents,” insisted the lawyer.

Uvalde, Texas, two years later

Uvalde, Texas, two years later

Photo: Adil Boukind Le Devoir Spontaneous places of contemplation honor the memory of the little victims of the Robb primary school massacre.

For Jerry Mata, father of Tess Marie Mata, killed at the age of 10, this blunder by law enforcement is a “slap in the face” for the families. “My daughter was in the school crying for 77 minutes, asking for help… and these guys have medals. I just don't understand. Where is justice ? »

A Broken Community

Apart from the drone of a lawnmower, it's dead quiet around Robb Elementary School. In these quiet streets in the southwest of the city, modest bungalows lined with lawns line up. There are a few rare signs bearing anti-gun messages, like cries in the desert. This neighborhood without history has, despite itself, passed into history, as reminded by the 21 white crosses in the name of the victims planted in front of the school.

Left abandoned, this brown brick building which accommodated around 500 students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the majority of Latin American origin, will probably be demolished to become a park in memory of the victims. “But it’s going to take time. For now, it’s still a crime scene under surveillance,” says Michael Robinson, founder of the independent online newspaper Uvalde Hesperian, who works in the area for over 20 years.

According to him, the tensions, which continue to this day, were like the shock: immense. “For us, it was the worst event since September 11, 2001. It seemed like the whole city was under attack. »

In an atmosphere of a media circus, Uvalde has become the scene of strong tensions between bereaved families, residents and the authorities, blamed for their lack of transparency. “We didn’t have time to suffer in peace, let alone heal our wounds,” said the journalist, who himself had to be treated for post-traumatic shock.

For weeks and months, everyone was on edge, relates the man who is writing a book on the tragedy. “I remember going to the school board meeting and everyone was yelling at each other. I've never seen that. »

Uvalde, Texas, two years later

Photo: Adil Boukind Le Devoir In the quiet streets of southwest Uvalde there are a few rare signs bearing anti-gun messages, like cries in the desert.

Jerry Mata says he sometimes feels compassionate looks on him, when they are not turned away. “We just don’t want it to happen again. May our children and teachers be safe. Because no one wants to live with our pain,” he says, fiddling with a locket containing his daughter’s photo, which he wears on his heart.

If the families of the victims accepted symbolic compensation of $2 million from the City, it was so that it would not go bankrupt. “We hope this will bring some peace for residents. »

Impossible to forget

The morning of May 24, 2022 left its mark on the 48-year-old man, who works in the aviation field. Since his wife, a kindergarten teacher, was in confinement at another school, it was he who rushed to the primary school his daughter attended. “I saw all these police officers, these armed people…” he said without finishing his sentence. “I still have nightmares about it. »

Uvalde, Texas, two years later

Photo: Adil Boukind Le Devoir Abandoned, Robb Primary School will likely be demolished to become a park in memory of the victims of the 2022 tragedy.

He says he can continue to get up every morning because of his eldest daughter, Faith. “I’m still a father. I could curl up in a ball and do nothing but cry, but I won't do that. My wife and I said to ourselves that we had to set an example. »

As a sign of humanity as the commemoration of this tragedy approaches, several local journalists hugged him as they left the press briefing. “Is there anything you want to add, my friend ?” one of them asked. “I just want to say that it’s not because we reached an agreement [with the City] that we’re going to stop fighting for our children,” he replied, before adding: “ Please remember their names. »

With Adil Boukind

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116