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Voices from Uvalde: ‘If I can’t protect her, I’m going to protect my parents’

A teddy bear and roses were left on May 26, 2022, at a memorial outside the Uvalde courthouse.
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
A teddy bear and roses were left on May 26, 2022, at a memorial outside the Uvalde courthouse.

It’s been almost one year since the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde killed 19 young students and two teachers. The families of those lost recently shared their experiences with journalism students at Texas State University.

Faith Mata told Elissa Jorgensen about her sister Tess:

So I was in my apartment here in San Marcos. I had just woken up, and I was getting ready to go into work. At the time, my roommates were both from Uvalde, so they were getting information as well. And they were texting in our roommate group chat and just saying, you know, that something’s off in Uvalde, that there’s someone that locked himself in a classroom or whatever, and I just didn’t think anything of it, right? I was like, OK, he locked himself in an empty classroom – like, it’s fine.

But then, I want to say maybe an hour later, I got a message from my roommate saying that a teacher at Robb had been shot. So that’s when I was like, oh, OK, this is different. Like, this isn’t a normal situation. So I started freaking out because the teacher that was shot was in the new building, and I knew that’s where my sister was at.

I was like, I’m just going to call all the hospitals in San Antonio. So I called every single hospital describing what my sister looked like, what her name was, date of birth, everything. No hospital had any kid that was her.

I finally get to Uvalde, and I just thought like my sister was missing but she was going to come home, like it was going to be OK. That’s what you want to think and believe. And I happened to see one of my former teachers, right. And she comes up to me, and she starts hugging me and she’s crying. And she says, “you need to be strong for your mom and your dad.” But I’m like, why? Like, if my sister’s coming home, why do I need to be strong?

I got there at 4. We didn’t find out my sister passed away until about 11:35-11:40ish. The Rangers had brought my parents into the room, and I’m assuming whatever happened once they told my parents, that’s when they called me into the room. And I walked in, and I just see my mom look at me – she just, like, looked at me with this look that I can’t ever forget. Like, her soul had just been, like, ripped out of her.

My mindset was: My parents just lost their child – no one should ever have to lose their child. But this was also my sister, and I always said I was going to protect her. So if I can’t protect her, I’m going to protect my parents. So I took over everything: I planned her funeral; I designed her headstone. I was the one who answered doors the day after. I was greeting people; I was talking to people; I talked to media. I was the one who did it all.

Tess – she was very hard-headed; whatever Tess wanted, she had to have. I don’t think Tess did not stop crying until she was about 4. She cried every single day, but she was the most loving kid I think I could have ever imagined. If you could depict a perfect child, I believe that was Tess. She was just helpful. She loved her family. She loved going to church. She loved the environment. She loved being outside. She loved everything.

A butterfly has been very symbolic for a lot of the kids and for my sister in particular, for our family. So I have a little butterfly that I’ve taken with me everywhere, and it has pictures of her inside the butterfly. I have this necklace, actually, that I received, and it’s her fingerprint. I wear it all the time everywhere. And I feel it’s like a piece of her is with me, always.

Reflections

Faith Mata shared her story with journalism student Elissa Jorgensen as part of a project led by Texas State University associate professor of practice Dino Chiecchi.

Elissa Jorgensen

Elissa Jorgensen
Elissa Jorgensen

Age: 20
Major: English, Journalism minor
Hometown: Cypress, Texas
Graduation: Spring 2023

The Uvalde project and story-writing process was nothing less than an honor. It was a privilege to speak with the Uvalde families. They want justice for the losses they’ve suffered; many Americans do as well. I’m extremely proud of my reporting team, and my professor Dino Chiecchi, for pouring their all into the articles, video, audio and photos. I’m also proud of myself for taking this opportunity and making it into an impactful and effective experience. I graduate in May, and I feel so much more prepared and well-rounded for my future in graduate school because of the work I’ve done on this project. I have no regrets in taking it.

Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi, MFA

Dino Chiecchi
Dino Chiecchi

Texas State University
Multimedia journalism professor
Uvalde reporting project coordinator
Hometown: El Paso, Texas

I couldn’t be happier with the work of my students. They reported this difficult story with grace, empathy and gave their stories the respect they deserved. Parents of victims commented to me immediately after the interviews and elsewhere just how well prepared the students were to interview them – even more than some national media. As a result, family members were candid telling the story about the worst day of their lives. Every student was moved by the experience, listening to family members discuss the loved ones they lost. Students and I talked a great deal about vicarious trauma – a real thing among journalists and others who deal with tragedy. Students talked at length, especially on the drive back home, about their experience. But at the end of the project, students produced quality journalism: stories, video and audio pieces, and exceptional photography.

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