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UVALDE — Stopped at a red light, a woman rolled down her car window.
“I love you,” she yelled.
“I love you too!” said Arnulfo Reyes, raising the arm that was wounded a year ago by a gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Reyes, who taught fourth graders at the school, was the only survivor in his classroom, in which the gunman killed 11 students.
With his other hand, Reyes kept holding a big orange flag, the color for gun violence awareness, that had the number 21 — the total number of people killed — in the middle. Reyes was among a crowd gathered Wednesday afternoon at a memorial site for a 77-minute vigil — the amount of time authorities waited outside the classroom before confronting the shooter. The commemoration was one of several planned in the city to mark a year after the worst school shooting in Texas.
In the year since, law enforcement officials involved in the shooting’s response have faced few consequences, a criminal investigation has not been completed and families have continued mourning — some sharing their grief while advocating for stricter gun laws.
“For us, and I think it may be felt across the community, it is a somber day,” said Julian Moreno, the great-grandfather of 10-year-old Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, one of the fourth grade students killed that day. “But at the same time, a day that brings to mind the impact of the lives of these children — our great-granddaughter, who left recorded in our hearts all these beautiful moments we shared with her.”
While the crowd stood near an intersection, where cars and big rigs traversing one of the city’s main streets honked in apparent solidarity, a mariachi band arrived to perform three songs a member said are traditionally played for occasions of mourning.
“I am just one of many of the mariachi musicians and the mariachi world that want to send out our music of healing to the community of Uvalde, and especially to the families that are still grieving and mourning and hurting,” said Anthony Medrano, a San Antonio-based musician who has performed with mariachi groups at the White House and the Hollywood Bowl. “It’s been a year, and we choose to be out here today to continue our support for them and to continue the memory of the children and lives that were taken away.”
The one-year mark arrived days before the end of this year’s legislative session, during which some relatives of the children and teachers killed have visited the Capitol almost weekly to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to help prevent more mass shootings.
The session is set to end next week without the passage of a key provision many of those families have advocated for — raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles, like the AR-15 the 18-year-old Uvalde gunman used in the shooting, which he had legally bought days after his birthday.
In Washington, D.C., President Joe Biden said the nation must ban AR-15-style firearms and high-capacity magazines. He also called for establishing national red flag laws — which allow judges to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed dangerous — and requiring the safe storage of guns.
Across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered flags be lowered to half-staff and urged Texans to observe a moment of silence at 11:30 a.m. in memory of the victims.
In Austin, Democratic Rep. Tracy King, who represents Uvalde and carried the raise-the-age bill, led House members in a moment of silence at 11:32 a.m., the time the shooter entered the school a year ago today.
“Eight days after his 18th birthday, a killer walked into Robb Elementary and fired around 150 rounds, shot 38 people, killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers. It took him about three minutes,” King said to a silent House floor. “I would ask that we memorialize and honor that with a moment of silence.”
But in Uvalde, reminders of the shooting — colorful murals, “Uvalde Strong” banners, the campus itself — have remained for most of the last year.
By quarter past 7 a.m., a man and a little boy arrived at the memorial where 21 crosses encircled a pond. In silence, the man removed a baseball cap from his head, and the two walked from one cross to another, briefly stopping at each before leaving. Across the memorial, a group of six adults and another child gathered in a circle and bowed their heads.
They were among the first in a procession of visitors to the memorial. In front of the flags, visitors left flowers, photos and colorful pinwheels.
Down the street, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church released butterflies from the church’s labyrinth during a ceremony that lasted about seven minutes — roughly a tenth of the time it took police to enter the classroom where the gunman terrorized children after killing their classmates.
School district officials canceled class Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday “out of respect, observance, and safety concerns.” School staff will return Friday.
Weeks before the anniversary neared, some families planned to leave the area. Four survivors who were in one of the targeted classrooms hoped to go to Disneyland, according to a fundraiser set up to help their families. Others had quietly left for neighboring towns by Wednesday, like a family that went to Del Rio for the week.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune