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10-year-old Uvalde shooting survivor returns to school with smiles of strength and resilience

The kids of Robb Elementary have been dispersed among various schools and online courses because the school has permanently closed and will eventually be demolished.

10-year-old Uvalde shooting survivor returns to school with smiles of strength and resilience
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Antonio Gravante

On May 24 this year, 19 students and two teachers lost their lives when a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Since then, the journey has been a hard one for parents, children and school staff. This incident is considered the deadliest school massacre in almost a decade and the school building will be demolished, Uvalde's mayor, Don McLaughlin, said during a July city council meeting, according to KSAT-TV. The students of Robb Elementary school will be moving to new schools in the same area now that schools are opening up.

While everyone has been looking forward to the start of the new school year, parents and the traumatized children in Uvalde have been dreading it. Police cars were stationed at every intersection and mothers wiped away tears in the drop-off line, but some children displayed strength and resilience, which is nothing short of extraordinary.



On the first day of the new school year on Tuesday, AJ Martinez, 10 years old, entered his new school building, Flores Elementary, with a big smile on his face and a T-shirt bearing a collage of the teachers and friends he had lost in the shooting. “I slept good. I’m nervous because I’m not used to this school,” AJ shared with CNN. At his new school, AJ said that he was unsure whether he would make any new friends. About three months ago, on May 24, AJ, then 9 years old, left school with a gunshot wound on his thigh and somebody else's blood on his face. He was filled with anxiety and anger about losing his friends and teachers to the Robb Elementary school shooting. 



In July, AJ shared that he witnessed the shooter say, "Goodnight" to his teacher as he entered his classroom before he opened fire with an assault-style rifle. AJ also heard police enforcement officers outside in the hallways and saw his friends dying. He was understandably traumatized and angry at these experiences, but his mother, Kassandra Chavez, advised him to stop getting upset and translate the emotion he was feeling into something else. "You have to be strong," Chavez said she would tell him, "Because that's what they would want you to do. Remember them, carry their legacy, like they would want you to do."



Now geared up for his first day at the new school three months after the shooting, the 10-year-old seems very excited, sporting an extremely resilient smile. Chavez does not share her son's strength or her son's smile. She says she's "nervous" and is "just trying to be there supporting him." Chavez honored the victims and everyone who was still alive by donning a "Uvalde Strong" T-shirt. The Robb Elementary maroon and white was worn by a large portion of the employees at AJ's new school as well.



Gilbert Mata, another 10-year-old survivor of the school shooting, is now moving to Flores Elementary school. He was excited to go back to school after his physical wounds had healed. His mother, Corina Camacho, told AP that she is extremely worried. She got Gilbert a phone so she knows where he is at all times. “There’s a certain time he can get his phone out and text us he’s OK,” she told AP after dropping him off, behind doors with new locks, at his new school, Flores Elementary. “That’s like, ‘OK, that’s good. Now I feel better.’”



Earlier this month, a Uvalde survivor Mayah Zamora was honored as the August Hero of the Month at the Houston Astros game where she threw the ceremonial first pitch. Zamora spent 66 days in the hospital, but the anxiety she had stemmed from the fact that the shooter lived very close to her house. At the Astros game, Carlos Correa, the two-time all-star player, announced the financing of a new home for her and her family. The wholesome announcement, alongside the honor she received at the game, was to make her feel safe and comfortable, according to "After everything she went through, the battle she went through ... we want to celebrate life and celebrate her life," Correa said.

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