The United States experiences so many mass shootings that journalists rarely stay long after the attacks. Reporters and photographers move on to other stories, while the families and friends of the victims continue to grieve.
One year ago today, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Tamir Kalifa, an Austin-based freelance photojournalist, traveled to Uvalde shortly after the shootings but kept coming back. Tamir temporarily moved to Uvalde to live alongside the families of the victims, renting a 320-square-foot shipping container converted into a home.
We are dedicating today’s newsletter to some of the photographs Tamir has taken over the past year and excerpts from his interviews with families.
“Grief cycles don’t match media cycles,” Tamir told us. “We move on, but the families don’t.”
marking the holidays
Xavier “XJ” López, 10, loved Christmas. He loved going to the annual Uvalde Extravaganza, an event with displays of Christmas lights, decorations and music. So, this past Christmas, the first without XJ, his parents, Abel López and Felicha Martínez, and his brothers went to honor him.
The soundtrack of a children’s choir played as they walked through the event. Then, they heard a loud explosion that sounded like gunshots: an overloaded transformer had blown. Felicha had a panic attack and collapsed on the grass.
“These days are supposed to be happy,” he said later that night. “But they are just reminders that our lives are torn apart.”
The weekend before 10-year-old Tess Mata was killed, she told her older sister, Faith, that she wanted to learn to swim. Faith was about to start her senior year at Texas State University, where students jump into a river on campus as a graduation tradition. Tess wanted to participate with her older sister.
On her graduation day this month, Faith walked her family to the river. She then jumped up, grabbing a picture of Tess. The photo was a sweet symbol, but also a painful reminder.
“Tess looks exactly like Faith,” said Veronica Mata, her mother. “So the other day she came by herself and she said, ‘I’m so sorry you have to look at me every day and think about Tess.'”
visiting their graves
The cemetery where most of the victims are buried has become an anchor in the lives of their family and friends. They have gathered to celebrate graveside birthdays and holidays. They mow the lawn, decorate the tombstones and lie down on the lush grass that has taken over them.
Caitlyne Gonzales, 11, who lost many of her friends in the shooting, comes to the cemetery to visit them. On a recent night, she stopped by Jackie Cazares’ grave and played music by Taylor Swift. She sang, danced and took selfies. For a moment, it was like they were all together again.
protests and vigils
Many of the parents have found purpose in activism. Brett Cross, the uncle of 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, who was raising him like a son, spent 10 days camped out in front of the school district offices in protest, along with other family members and supporters. They demanded that the school police officers be suspended for their role in the late response.
The protest ended when the district halted the operations of the school police department and placed two officers on leave.
Family members have also testified before lawmakers at both the state and federal levels and protested beyond Uvalde. Tamir said that a picture of Jackie Cazares’ parents, Javier and Gloria, at an annual vigil against gun violence in Washington, DC, surrounded by other survivors of gun violence, was one of the most powerful moments he has witnessed.
“It’s important to see each of these family members as part of a national network of people intimately affected by gun violence,” he said. “He is one who is growing every day.”
You can see more photos of Tamir here.
tamir kalifa contributed reporting and photography.
ARTS AND IDEAS
the show goes on
The Tony Awards will look different this year, but it will continue, after a group of the playwrights convinced the striking Hollywood Writers Union not to picket the show.
As part of the deal, the awards show will have no scripted material. But it will feature the usual dazzling performances of this year’s crop of musicals. That was crucial for Broadway, which has struggled to attract audiences since the pandemic and relies on the Tonys to generate interest.