UVALDE, Texas — Two days after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School here, survivors are recounting stories of the horrifying moments they endured as they were attacked.
Some children hid from the killer under tables, while others faked their deaths by smearing blood on themselves. Some were shot multiple times.
They watched as their beloved teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, were killed while they shielded others from gunfire.
Officials have said at least 17 children were hospitalized with injuries, though it’s unclear how many of those survived. Many who were in the building — and in the community — said their lives will never be the same.
“It’s just really hard to cope with everything that’s going on,” said Amber Gonzales, whose 8-year-old daughter Aubree hid under her desk in another classroom while the shooting occurred.
Gonzales said Aubree is still traumatized by what happened.
“She’s terrified to go anywhere without me and her dad,” she said. “She can’t sleep by herself. She’s scared to take a shower by herself. She’s scared to even watch a movie in the living room by herself. I put her to bed last night and she told me she felt like somebody was looking at her — she’s just really shaken up by it.”
Aubree told her mother that during the shooting, a woman was banging on her classroom door and “begging for the teacher to let her in.”
Her teacher couldn’t unlock the door because of lockdown protocols, she said, and Aubree doesn’t know what happened to the woman or whether she was one of the teachers who was killed.
“I can just imagine the fear of hearing her yell, ‘Help!’ Help!'” Gonzales said, fighting back tears.
Although her focus is on her daughter’s well-being, Gonzales added that the circumstances have been incredibly difficult to handle as a parent.
“I’m a mess,” she said. “I’m just so thankful that I was able to bring my baby home and tuck her in and be with her.”
Another student, a fourth-grader who was inside the classroom where the gunman opened fire, told San Antonio TV station KENS that the shooter came into the room and said, “It’s time to die.”
“When I heard the shooting through the door, I told my friend to hide under something so he won’t find us,” said the boy, who was not identified.
The boy, his best friend and three other students hid beneath a table with a tablecloth and were able to survive as his teachers and many of his classmates were killed.
“They were nice teachers,” he said of Garcia and Mireles. “They went in front of my classmates to help. To save them.”
Other students in the classroom shared similarly horrifying stories.
Eleven-year-old Miah Cerillo survived by smearing her friend’s blood on herself and playing dead, her aunt, Blanca Rivera, told NBC News. She was hospitalized with bullet fragments in her back but has since been released, Rivera said.
Nine-year-old Kendall Olivarez was injured in the attack. She underwent surgery on her arm and was scheduled for more procedures, her aunt, Jennifer Marie Olivarez, said in a post on Facebook.
“Thank you so much everybody for the prayers…We know her guardian angel was protecting her through all this.” she wrote. “She’s going to have so many follow ups.”
Even those who weren’t in the room were struggling to make sense of what had happened.
Adam Pennington, 8, told the Los Angeles Times that he was in the principal’s office shortly before the shooting and heard the principal answer a phone call from someone who had seen the gunman approaching.
“Somebody jumped the fence just now holding a gun,” Adam said he heard the caller say.
He and others hid under a table before fleeing to other rooms, including behind the curtains of the auditorium, and eventually evacuating to the civic center, where he was reunited with his mother Laura Pennington at about 1:30 p.m.
Pennington, 37, a substitute teacher with the Uvalde school district, said she plans to transfer her son and move to a smaller nearby district.
Although she criticized the lack of security cameras and guards at the school, she also said she felt law enforcement responded rapidly.
“The kids were evacuated very quickly. It wasn’t long before I saw him. I felt like they did a good job,” she said as she stood with her son facing a memorial to the victims, 21 crosses erected in a park at the center of town.
Monique Hernandez, whose 8-year-old son Joaquin is a second-grader at Robb and survived, said she got a call about the shooting from a family member in law enforcement and immediately rushed to the scene.
She called the teachers who were killed “beautiful, selfless women” who “always did everything for their kids” at Robb and would have done everything to protect them during the attack.
When she got to the school, she said she could see her son’s classroom but didn’t know where he was.
She eventually realized that he was among the students who had been evacuated onto a nearby field, and ran to him there.
“He just wanted to go home. He said, ‘Mama, take me home.'”
“Sure, baby,” she recalled telling him as she held back tears Thursday.
“There’s no words to make it OK,” she said, “to make it better.”
Story by Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Kevin Rector, Hayley Smith and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Los Angeles Times.