16 Uvalde fourth graders waited an hour with injured teacher

UVALDE, Texas (AP) – Elsa Avila slid to her phone, terrified while holding the bleeding side of her stomach, trying to stay calm in front of her students. In a text to her family that she wanted to send to other Uvalde teachers, she wrote: “I was shot.”

For the first time in 30 years, Avila isn’t going back to school as classes resume on Tuesday in the small southwestern Texas town. The start of school will look different for her than for other survivors of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in which 21 people died, with an emphasis on healing, both physical and mental. Some have opted for virtual education, others for private school. Many will return to the Uvalde School District campuses, although Robb Elementary itself will never reopen.

“I try to understand everything,” Avila said in an August interview, “but it will never make sense.”

A scar on her torso brings her to tears as a permanent reminder of the horrors she endured with her 16 students as they waited an hour in their class for help while a gunman slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in two adjacent classrooms nearby.

Minutes before she felt the sharp pain of the bullet piercing her gut and colon, Avila motioned the students away from the walls and windows and closer to her. A student queuing at the door for recess had just told her that something was going on outside: people were running—and yelling. As she slammed the classroom door shut so that the lock would catch, her students assumed their well-trained locking positions.

Moments later, a gunman burst into their fourth-class wing and began firing bullets before finally breaking into rooms 111 and 112.

In room 109, Avila texted repeatedly for help, according to reports reviewed by The Associated Press. First at 11:35 am in the text to her family that she says was intended for the teacher’s group chat. Then at 11:38 a.m. in a message to the deputy director of the school. At 11:45 a.m., she responded to a text from the school’s dean asking if her class was locked with, “I’ve been shot, send help.” And when the director assured her that help was on the way, she simply replied, “Help.”

“Yeah, they’re coming,” the director wrote back at 11:48am

It is not clear whether her messages were passed on to the police. District officials did not respond to requests for comment on the actions taken on May 24 to communicate with law enforcement, and an attorney for then-chieftain Mandy Gutierrez was not available for comment.

According to a legislative commission report detailing a botched police response, nearly 400 local, state and federal agents stood in the fourth-grade wing hallway or outside the building for 77 minutes before some eventually entered adjacent classrooms and killed the gunman. Lawmakers also found a relaxed approach to lockdowns – which often happened — and security issues, including door lock issues. State and federal investigations into the shooting are ongoing.

The district is working on new security measures and the school board fired the district police chief in August, Piet Arredondo. Residents say it remains unclear how – or even if – trust between the community and officials can be restoredeven as some argue for greater accountability, better police training and stricter gun safety laws.

Avila remembers hearing the ominous bursts of rapid fire, then silence, and then the voices of officers in the hallway yelling, “Crossfire!” and later more officers stood nearby.

“But still no one came to help us,” she said.

As Avila lay motionless, unable to speak loud enough to be heard, some of her students bumped and shook her. She wanted the strength to tell them she was still alive.

A light flashed through their window, but no one identified. Afraid it might be the shooter, the students left.

“The little girls closest to me kept petting me and saying, ‘It’s going to be okay, ma’am. We love you, ma’am,” Avila said.

Finally, at 12:33 PM, a window in her classroom broke. Officers arrived to evacuate her students – the last to be released in the area, according to Avila.

With her remaining strength, Avila pulled herself up and helped the students onto chairs and tables and through the window. Then she grabbed her side and told an officer she was too weak to jump herself. He came through the window to pull her out.

“I never saw my children again. I know they climbed out the window and I could just hear them say, ‘Run, run, run!’” Avila said.

She remembers being taken to the airport, where a helicopter took her to a hospital in San Antonio. She was in and out of care until June 18.

Avila later learned that a student in her class had been injured in the nose and mouth by shrapnel, but had since been released from medical care. She said other students helped their injured classmates until the officers arrived.

“I’m very proud of them because they were able to stay calm for a whole hour while we were terrified there,” Avila said.

As her students prepare to return to school for the first time since that traumatic day, Avila is on her way to recovery, walking on the treadmill for up to eight minutes at a time in physical therapy and counseling. She looks forward to teaching again someday.

Outside a shuttered Robb Elementary, a memorial to the people who died at the entrance gate flows. Teachers from all over Texas stopped by this summer to pay their respects and reflect on what they would do in the same situation.

“If I survive, I have to make sure they survive first,” said Olga Oglin, a 23-year-old Dallas teacher, breaking her voice.

“Whatever happens to a student at our school, it just happens to one of my kids,” Olgin said, adding that if the person to greet parents, students and staff at the door in the morning, she’s probably the first person. would be being shot.

Ofelia Loyola, who teaches elementary school in San Antonio, visited her husband, high school teacher Raul Loyola. She was stunned by the delayed response from law enforcementas seen on security and police videos.

“They are all children. It doesn’t matter how old they are, you protect them,’ she said.

Last week, Avila and some of her students met for the year-end party they couldn’t hold in May. They were playing in a country club pool and she gave each of them a bracelet with a small cross to remind them that “God was with us that day and they are not alone,” she said.

“We were always talking about being nice, being respectful, taking care of each other — and they were able to do that that day,” Avila said.

“They took care of each other. They took care of me.”

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This story has been updated to correct that Uvalde is in southwestern Texas, not southeastern Texas.

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