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How the elementary school shooting is impacting the Uvalde community

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The town of Uvalde, Texas, has been traumatized by the incomprehensible killings of 19 students and two teachers. It is the worst school shooting in Texas history. And as the small city fills up with investigators and grief counselors and journalists, local residents are numb. No population is prepared for this carnage, much less a laid-back South Texas ranching town.

We're joined now by NPR's John Burnett, who was in Uvalde this morning. Hi, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So can you just describe the mood - all the emotions you heard while talking to people there this morning?

BURNETT: Bewilderment, agony, anger, confusion and lots of prayer - this is a conservative town of 15,000 tucked between the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and the beautiful Texas Hill Country, and people told us everybody knows each other in Uvalde. Folks everywhere are crying today because it's such a close-knit town, and everybody I talked to was touched by this attack in some way.

I went to South Park Street, a few blocks from Robb Elementary. Some neighbors had gathered on the front porch of an elderly resident. And Jay Martin - he's a 48-year-old unemployed delivery driver - he says people on his street are real neighbors. They give each other rides. They cut each other's grass and check on the old folks. And he said yesterday he heard the gunshots, then the sirens, and he walked to the school to see what was going on. He saw some of the kids going home, and, Ailsa, his description is pretty raw.

JAY MARTIN: A little girl came out with bloody face, and then a little boy came out saying that, mom, my buddy's in there dying. That was a very sad thing to hear.

CHANG: Oh, wow.

BURNETT: I also met Sylvia Martinez, a 58-year-old worker in a clothing repair shop. Her 10-year-old grandson, Darien, was at the school. Martinez says, when the shooting started, police and school officials quickly evacuated the kids from the other classrooms, and then they all ran across the street to the safety of a funeral home. And she says that a sweet 10-year-old girl in her neighborhood was murdered.

SYLVIA MARTINEZ: She was my neighbor. She was 10. (Crying) I always see her there, running around, playing with my grandkids, going to church and - little beautiful girl. Now, we going to miss her.

CHANG: God. I imagine Uvalde has never, ever experienced anything remotely like this before.

BURNETT: Yeah, hardly. A local insurance agent, Paul Schaffino, told me, with tears streaming down his cheeks, that people move to Uvalde to get away from big-city problems. He moved here from San Jose, Calif., about 20 years ago for that very reason, and he loves the three-minute commute to his office on Main Street. He says he knew one of the fourth-grade teachers who was slain.

PAUL SCHAFFINO: (Crying) I just really, really feel for the parents and the grandparents out there that are having to go through this. I know also one of the teachers that passed away. I saw her picture, and I still can't process it, you know?

BURNETT: Schaffino says, typically, the most excitement in Uvalde are the border patrol chases through town. The Rio Grande is about 60 miles from here, and federal agents pursue vehicles full of smuggled migrants.

SCHAFFINO: We see U.S. Border Patrols and Custom (ph) vehicles zooming back here and forth. It's been an issue. You know, the car chases - we're kind of accustomed to that. We hear about bailouts happening in this part of town, this other. But, yeah, nothing compared to this. This was totally unexpected.

CHANG: Nothing compared to this.

Well, President Biden spoke pretty emotionally last night and today about the school shooting. And, you know, he forcefully called out the gun lobby and the easy availability of deadly weapons in America. I'm curious...

BURNETT: Right.

CHANG: ...Did anyone in Uvalde react to that piece of this?

BURNETT: Yeah. Well, first, Ailsa, understand this is deep red Texas. Uvalde County went for Donald Trump by 60%. And, I mean, when we were driving in, you see all these gun - signs for gun stores. One said liquor and guns in the same establishment, with the tagline, only in Texas. So the notion that banning assault-style rifles or somehow enhancing background checks - let's just play skeptics. Let's just say the skeptics abound. This is John Callendra, a construction company owner.

JOHN CALLENDRA: This is rural Texas. Everybody's got a gun. You're not going to take away 300 million guns from people. It just ain't going to happen. The people will revolt. They want to be able to protect themselves.

CHANG: And we're going to have to leave it there. That is NPR's John Burnett in Uvalde, Texas. Thank you, John.

BURNETT: Sure, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPIE SABOTAGE SONG, "OM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.