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As a gunman killed students across the hall, a child pleaded for her mother to pick her up

Gladys Gonzales with daughters Camila (7) and Caitlyne (10) at Town Square, paying respects to deceased classmates.
Jiawen Chen
/
TPR
Gladys Gonzales with daughters Camila (7) and Caitlyne (10) at Town Square, paying respects to deceased classmates.

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A few days ago, 10-year-old Caitlyne Gonzales didn’t know if she would ever see her parents again.

The Robb Elementary School fourth grader was in a classroom across the hallway from where a gunman shot and killed 19 of her classmates and two teachers.

She was terrified and used her cell phone to call her parents.

“My husband called me and soon after she called me,” said Gladys Gonzales. “She called me crying. She said, ‘Mommy, come pick me up now!’”

Gonzales asked her daughter where she was hiding, but they lost contact.

Inside her classroom “[I] was thinking about my friends and my family, but I was thinking more about my mom because she had just been there 30 minutes before at my awards ceremony," Caitlyne said.

Other parents had also attended the same school awards ceremony earlier that day.

On Friday evening, Caitlyne, her 7-year-old sister Camila and their mom stopped by Uvalde’s town square.

A constant flow of visitors left handwritten notes, teddy bears and flowers on white crosses bearing the names of the victims of Tuesday’s shooting. The crosses surround what’s known as the Uvalde Plaza Fountain. Before this horrific event, the fountain was the square's centerpiece.

Now, it’s a rapidly growing memorial for victims.

 A tribute to the victims of the Uvalde shooting.
Jiawen Chen
/
TPR
A tribute to the victims of the Uvalde shooting.

Caitlyne scribbled messages on the crosses honoring her closest friends, like fellow fourth grader Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares. Her message read: “Hey Jackie, I love and miss you so much. It will be so different without you. I planned to have a lot of sleepovers with you. Rest in Peace Jackie.”


Gonzales said she’s trying to shield her daughters from too much coverage of the shooting, but Caitlyne insisted on visiting the memorial to pay her respects.

“It’s been really hard because I lost a lot of my best friends,” Caitlyne said, including fourth grader Eliahana "Elijah" Cruz Torres.

Caitlyne described how she and the rest of her class eventually made it out of the school.

“After everything that happened, the kind officers and SWAT team broke the window and then I ran out with just socks and thank God I didn’t get any glass in me,” she said.

Her sister Camila says she feels “really bad” for her sister and shares her pain.

“One of her friends was close to me, but then she died and I really miss her,” Camila said.

Gladys Gonzales said the past few days have been difficult and emotional. After getting the phone call from her daughter and her husband, she rushed to the school. But shortly after arriving, officials told her to go to the reunification center.

Instead, she drove to a friend's house, a Border Patrol officer who had picked up Camila and taken her to his home to wait.

Gonzales rushed toward her daughter and hugged her tightly. In that moment, nothing else mattered.

“I’ve tried to remain strong for her,” she said. “Because I can see how strong, courageous and resilient she’s been.”

When Gonzales stops to think what might have happened, she fights back tears.

“She was just seconds away from being taken from me,” she said, taking a pause. “That’s been the hardest.”

When asked how she’s doing now, Caitlyne responded “really well,” and added she just needs to “stay strong for my family and friends.”

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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