Zayon Martinez spent his final hour of second grade hiding under a desk while bullets flew through Robb Elementary School.
By the end of the carnage, 19 of his schoolmates and two teachers were killed. Now Zayon, who’s supposed to start third grade Tuesday, doesn’t want to set foot in another classroom, his father said.
“I went and talked to my son and I told him, ‘They’re gonna have more cops. They’re gonna have higher fencing. And he wasn’t having it,” said Zayon’s father, Adam Martinez.
“He said, ‘It doesn’t matter. They’re not gonna protect us.'”
Zayon Martinez, 8, hid from the gunfire at Robb Elementary. His dad says he’s too traumatized to go back in a classroom.
Zayon’s fear is not unfounded. Since the tragic end to the last school year, the grief enveloping Uvalde, Texas, has been compounded by outrage.
Families learned law enforcement officers waited more than 70 minutes before entering the two classrooms where 19 students and two teachers lay mortally wounded.
And authorities repeatedly changed their stories about what happened as damning new evidence emerged.
Now, families who already lost one child in the massacre worry about sending another child back to school. And months of preparation by parents and school administrators will be put to the test.
Robb Elementary School will not reopen
No students or staff will return to the site of the deadliest school massacre in almost a decade.
“We’re not going back to that campus,” Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said in June.
Instead, children who were first graders at Robb Elementary last year will start second grade at Dalton Elementary.
Second and third graders at Robb last year will go to the new Uvalde Elementary, located at an existing educational complex in town. Many Robb Elementary teachers have relocated to Uvalde Elementary.
And some students have left the school district entirely.
Enrollment at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uvalde began its new school year with double the enrollment of elementary-age students compared to last fall, its principal said. The new students include 30 from Robb Elementary who received scholarships to go to the private school.
All students remaining in the Uvalde public school district could sign up for remote learning and use tablets provided by the school district.
Martinez said both his children opted for remote learning. “I talked to my son and daughter, and they said that they were afraid that if it happened again, they weren’t going to be protected,” he said.
“There’s no fencing at the junior high where my daughter would be going. There’s no way that I’m gonna convince her to go when there’s no fencing.”
But remote learning isn’t possible for some families in which both parents work outside the home.
And changing the scenery won’t erase the horror tormenting victims’ families — especially those debating whether to send their other children back to school.
‘I don’t feel like my kids are safe’
Uziyah Garcia should be starting the fifth grade today. But he was gunned down in his classroom at age 10, leaving his family crippled with grief.
Uziyah Garcia was on his school’s honor roll and loved anything with wheels. He was killed before he was able to take his first driving lesson.
“This is something that terrorizes you daily and nightly,” said Uziyah’s uncle Brett Cross, who was raising Uziyah like his own son.
“I close my eyes. All I see is my son. I hear the gunshots. It is something that doesn’t ever go away.”
But Cross has four other children in the school district. He’s struggled to decide whether to send them back to school in person.
“You want your kids to be able to go and have that education and everything, but at the same time, you’re fearful that they’re not gonna make it out by the end of the day,” he said.
Brett Cross shows his tattoo honoring his slain nephew Uziyah Garcia, whom he was raising as his own son.
Cross spent much of this summer demanding accountability from the school district and lambasting the law enforcement response.
“We’ve already seen that they didn’t do their job. So how are we supposed to trust that?” he said last week. “I don’t feel like my kids are safe.”
Cross has two 15-year-old daughters who have decided to return to school in person. He said they’re old enough to make their own decisions, with their parents’ guidance.
“But my little ones (ages 7 and 10) … we’re not certain yet,” he said. “I don’t feel like everything has been done to protect our children.”
Cross said he appreciated some changes made by the school district. After the district announced 33 Texas Department of Public Safety officers would work at Uvalde schools this year, Cross said he was assured those DPS officers would not be among the dozens who responded the day of the massacre.
But he wants to see more active monitoring of schools. “We’ve had several requests about somebody … watching the surveillance and everything like that, a dedicated person,” he said. “That would make me feel a lot safer.”
What the school district is doing
After months of public outcry, the Uvalde school district fired its police chief, Pedro “Pete” Arredondo. State investigators and law enforcement analysts say Arredondo was the de facto incident commander the day of the massacre.
The Uvalde school district also announced new safety measures planned for this school year. They include hiring 10 more school police officers; installing 500 new security cameras; the assignment of 33 Texas DPS officers to the Uvalde school district; and searching for a new interim police chief.
The school district said it has also increased emotional support for students, including comfort dogs on every campus for the first few weeks of school, additional school counselors and trauma-informed care training for all staff members.
But Cross said he’s not done demanding more safety measures — not just for his surviving children, but for all children in hopes no other family has to endure the agony he’s suffering.
“I’m fighting the system that let him (Uziyah) down. I’m at every city council meeting. I’m at every school board meeting,” he said.
Cross has also questioned why 18-year-olds in Texas can buy assault-style rifles like the one used to kill Uziyah.
“You have to be 21 to buy cigarettes and alcohol — things that can kill yourself. But you only have to be 18 to buy something that can kill multiple people,” he said.
“I’m channeling my grief into the fight right now because this fight is a fight that everybody should be a part of — but nobody is until it’s them. And it’s a lot harder on this side with this hole in your heart to do this fight.”