By Chip ScanlanWhen Rick Rojas became a national correspondent for The New York Times, a colleague told him to focus on the second word of his new title.
As correspondents, Rojas says, “We are, in a sense, writing a letter to our readers. Not just relaying basic facts, but striving to give some texture and depth so they come away from a story feeling like they have a deeper understanding of the place and the situation in the dateline.”
Rojas delivers on that mission in “The Excruciating Echo of Grief in Uvalde,” the “letter” he wrote Times readers from the southern Texas town in August, about two months after a shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 students and two teachers dead. His 2,000-word essay reaches well beyond a classic follow-up story, and instead offers a deeply reported meditation on grief and its evolution. The project was co-reported by Edgar Sandoval, a Times correspondent based in San Antonia and one of the journalists on the ground in Uvalde.
Rojas immersion into gun-violence coverage came in December 2012 when he reported from Newtown, Conn., where Sandy Hook Elementary School became the scene of the worst mass shooting at a school in U.S. history when 20 first-graders and members of the school staff were killed. The shooters at both Sandy Hook at Robb were former students of the schools, and both armed with assault-style rifles. Both left small, close-knit communities to deal with the endless aftermath of grief.
The experience, Rojas told me, “gave me a much deeper understanding of how a mass shooting almost works its way into the DNA of a place.”
That knowledge fuels the empathy in his story from Uvalde. Focusing primarily on one family, Rojas chronicles the suffering and the political awakening of Javier and Gloria Cazares whose 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn, and niece, Annabell Rodriguez, were killed.
Rojas spent more than a month in Uvalde to gather scenes and impressions that sum up the anguish of the Cazares family and other survivors — indeed, the whole town. The story is also marked by unattributed passages, Rojas says, “gleaned from sitting through funerals and vigils, conversations with families and spending lots of time in the community.” That investment in time allowed grieving families to realize that the Times team was not part of the media frenzy that swarmed to Uvalde and then left.
Throughout the reporting and writing, Rojas says his challenge was “managing to juggle big-picture insights with really close-in reporting on individual characters.” He employs alliteration—”a marathon of mourning”— and repetition to convey the story’s core theme of the grief that echoes on and on in Uvalde.
Rojas, a native of Beaumont, Texas, joined the Times in 2014 and nowis bureau chief for the South, based in Atlanta. He formerly reported at the Los Angeles Times and the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.
Nieman Storyboard interviewed Rojas about the origins of his Uvalde essay, his thinking behind the approach he took, his writing process, the vital role multimedia played and the traumatic impact of the Uvalde shootings on journalists covering the story. Our email conversation has been edited for length and clarity and is followed by an annotation of the story. Two editors who oversaw the project, Meghan Louttit, deputy national editor for Visual Journalism/Projects, and Felice Belman, the assistant national editor who edited the story, added their perspectives at the end of the annotation.
What led to your reporting in Uvalde and especially the immersion that resulted in “The Excruciating Echo of Grief?”
I was part of the early wave of New York Times reporters to arrive in Uvalde. The shooting happened on a Tuesday and I got in that Thursday morning. Texas is not technically in my purview, but on a story of this magnitude people are drawn in from all over — journalists from New York, Miami, Phoenix, even Mexico City. And I’m a Texan, so I find myself pitching in on things there more often than others.
My role in Uvalde quickly became doing the stories that established a sense of place. I wrote about the Catholic church that has always been a gathering place for the community, and now it was especially true as they grieved. I also wrote about mariachi performers who came from all over to perform in the town square. On a story of this significance, there is a lot of ground to cover. You need hard-hitting daily news coverage and accountability and investigative reporting. I’d say those are the most crucial.
But I think — especially as a news organization that is explaining this tragedy to a broader audience — it is also essential to provide the reporting and writing that tries to capture the place and the moment so readers can have a thorough understanding of what this community is enduring. This project grew out of that. There had been so much news. The coverage had been so relentless. And so it felt like we were nearing a point where we needed to take a step back and meditate on what this community had been through and in turn what the country had gone through, too.
To me, the story really reads more like an essay than a narrative. It’s marked by unattributed insights, conclusions and universal truths. Why did you write it in this fashion?
That’s a fair assessment. As a national correspondent, it’s a delicate line that I’m constantly straddling. I don’t want to cross into opinion. But what I am passing along are insights and impressions based on extensive reporting — not only my own, but Edgar Sandoval’s as well as that of the other reporters, photographers and videographers I worked with
Were there any writers, stories or books that you leaned on or inspired you when you were working on the story?
I went back and read one of Eli Saslow’s stories (in The Washington Post) after Newtown. I keep going to Mike Wilson’s stories, too. Mike is a metro reporter for the Times with an incredible ability for taking a crime event or a character and just letting a story unfurl in a way that takes you in surprising directions and brings nuance and texture you’re not always anticipating. I have a few colleagues whose author pages I tend to pull up when I need some inspiration: Annie Correal and Ellen Barry, to name a couple. I also keep this link to an L.A. Times blog post from 2008 bookmarked: Robyn Dixon, a former foreign correspondent for the L.A. Times, talked a bit about her process and linked to some of her most memorable stories. There was a particular story from Zimbabwe that is the perfect example of what I think correspondence is supposed to look like. It feels almost like you’re reading the journal of your most thoughtful and articulate.
What I wanted more than anything was to avoid having the story turn out maudlin. So I am drawn to writers whose stories pump with heart and humanity, but don’t make themselves — or their writing — the main character.
This story seems to rely as much on video and photos, as words. As the lead writer, tell me about that collaboration. The work of the visual journalists is what made this project work. It took a while for me to really get what the thesis of this story would be, but early on I imagined it as a scrapbook — images and videos and vignettes and more sweeping thoughts that all coalescence into something comprehensive, that you could look at later and hopefully understand what it was like to be in Uvalde during that time.
Tamir Kalifa’s photography is filled with heart and humanity. He has the ability to draw people in and connect with them, and he was able to capture that vulnerability. Tamir, Callaghan O’Hare and Emily Rhyne spent so much time in Uvalde, did so much reporting. I relied on their thoughts and impressions as much as my own in the writing part of it.
I can only imagine the emotional pain covering a story like this must have for the journalists covering it. How have you coped?
Other journalists in Uvalde told me stories about weeping in their cars after interviews — about having intense struggles with this. I’m not sure yet how it has affected me.
I believe that it helps that my stories are meant to have texture and a sense of perspective. That forces me to immediately process my thoughts and feelings about what I’ve just reported and then write it out. I think there is something therapeutic about that. Also, in the middle of reporting this, I caught COVID. It was a mild case, but I think the weeks of reporting this, of the all-nighters spent writing and all of the running around caught up with me. So the two weeks I was laid up, I think I was recuperating from this reporting as much as I was the virus.
Were there any lessons or surprises for you as worked this story?
This isn’t all that profound, but one of the main things I took away was just how much of a gift it can be to have time: Time to stick around, time to let a story play out, time to figure out how to make the most of the reporting.
It was remarkable how much had evolved as weeks went by, as the media circus calmed, how interactions with journalists changed. After awhile, after running into us at community gatherings and one of the Mexican restaurants in town, we became familiar to many people in Uvalde. It was clear that our mandate was something different than what they had experienced in the early days after the shooting. It wasn’t hurried. It wasn’t high-pressure. It wasn’t trying to grab sound bites. We were just there, listening. That can only come from taking the time to hang around, to have conversations with people where your notebook isn’t always out, and to soak up everything and see how things change over time.
Annotation: Storyboard’s questions are in red; Rojas’ answers in blue. to read the story without annotations, click the HIDE ANNOTATIONS button in the top right menu of your monitor or at the top of your mobile screen.
The Excruciating Echo of
Grief in Uvalde
The community buried 21 people after the Robb Elementary School massacre. In the weeks that followed, the aftershocks only compounded the agony.
Text by Rick Rojas and Edgar Sandoval
Videos by Emily Rhyne
Photographs by Tamir Kalifa and Callaghan O’Hare
UVALDE, Texas — In a cemetery on the edge of Uvalde, a cluster of fresh graves had been carved from the parched, rocky earth. The dead were claiming new ground: No sod had been laid. No trees had taken root to shield against an unrelenting South Texas sun. Your lede has the feel of a novel, with a strong sense of place. Why did you open the story this way? This was one of the most powerful moments in my reporting in Uvalde. The Cazares family brought Tamir and I with them to Jackie’s grave. The story was about a very specific chapter of grief, and that chapter ended once the children and teachers were buried and everyone went on their own path. In this scene, you could see how Uvalde was entering into uncharted territory. And it was also quite intimate, so I hope it helped make clear to readers who might have read weeks’ worth of coverage that we’re going to places they have not been in previous stories.
Uvalde had weathered loss, but never anything like this. The community had crossed into unfamiliar terrain, as the massacre at Robb Elementary School created a marathon of mourning that started with vigils in the hours after the May 24 attack and continued for weeks until the last victims were buried. The second graph brings the reader away from the newly-broken graves into the news. But it implies a familiarity with the mass shooting. When you crafted it, how much knowledge did you think the average reader would bring to the story? This story dominated the news for weeks, not just the shooting itself and the aftermath but also the political implications around gun legislation. So I assume readers had at least a cursory recognition of Uvalde, and I tried to shade in a few context clues — the date of the shooting, the name of the school, etc., to help orient readers without loading down the opening sentences.
On June 3, Javier and Gloria Cazares buried their daughter Jacklyn in one of the graves. On June 8, they returned for the burial of their niece, Annabell Rodriguez. A few days later, on a Sunday evening, they were back again with Jacklyn’s older sister, Jazmin. They had just been to the visitation for another classmate who was killed. On their way home, they stopped to collect the balloons they had set out for the 10th birthday Jacklyn was supposed to celebrate on June 10.
“We lost a child,” Ms. Cazares said. “We lost all of her friends. Our friends lost children.”
“It’s so much.”How and why did you select the grief-stricken Cazares family out of all the survivors as your protagonists? Some writers “audition” sources before they settle on a main character? Did you do something like that? It all happened rather organically. I believe that Tamir and I went to them and explained what we’re working on. That we’re here, after a little has passed, to do something richer and more meaningful about what this community has gone through. They were open and generous. This was unfamiliar territory for them, but they’re driven by an intense desire for their daughter to be remembered and for her life to be defined by more than how it ended. And I think they saw how sharing her story, and their loss, could help with that.
Part of the cruelty of what Uvalde endured lay in the repetition: One writer’s voice, devoid of traditional journalistic attribution, conveys the themes that are delivered in the meditation that is this story. What, or who, gave you the freedom to write this story in this fashion? The freedom came from the reporting. It gave me the measure of confidence to just say what we needed to say. One funeral after the next — days with one in the morning, another in the afternoon and then a visitation after that — into the summer. The pastor giving a variation of the same sermon, beseeching an anguished community not to let its anger ferment into malice. The collections of 21 crosses, one for each of the 19 students and two teachers who were killed, that sprouted all over town.
It was an excruciating echo. How did this phrase come to you and then become central to the project headline? It came to me while writing the previous graf: The idea of an echo and how awful it was to be stuck in it. We’d been struggling with what to do with a headline. I was concerned that readers — after so much coverage of Uvalde — would go right past it, and the headline was one way to combat that. The credit for the headline goes to Fahima Haque, our audience editor on the national desk.
It also reflected an enormous undertaking, as overwhelming emotionally as it was logistically, to memorialize the dead and care for those now living with debilitating loss. In just 26 words and a sentence with two clauses, you sum up what Uvalde and familes like the Cazares family face. Is this a nod to a nut graf? I see this as part of the nut graf, establishing what we’re examining in this story, the multitude of ways that this community has been strained and how they compound each other. The logistical headaches seemingly pale in comparison to the larger loss, but it is still an incredible burden to have to not just celebrate all of the people who had been killed but try to do them some semblance of justice.
Uvalde’s plight is as agonizing as it is familiar. The attack, now more than 10 weeks past, initiated the city into a crowded cohort of American communities forced by a gunman’s actions to navigate the long, brutal path that is the aftermath of mass violence.
Soon, just as in Newtown and Parkland and Sutherland Springs — other places indelibly associated with shootings — the path will splinter into countless trails, diverging as individuals wrestle with varying degrees of trauma and heartache, confront their own struggles and move at their own pace. Why did you highlight these particular mass shootings out of so many that have occurred? Newtown and Parkland were both school shootings, and Sutherland Springs because it was relatively nearby and it had the similar struggle of being a small town overwhelmed by the aftermath of a mass shooting. I was reminded of the essay Lauren McGaughy, a Dallas Morning News reporter, wrote about wrestling with being part of a media horde.
But for now, Uvalde is bound by its collective grief.Uvalde is a small community of roughly 16,000 people situated in the scrubby, wide open territory between San Antonio and the Mexican border. “Scrubby” is an intriguing adjective. Why did you choose it? It was trying to get a sense of how Uvalde fit into the broader landscape in this part of Texas and it seemed to fit.
The shooting has made it feel even smaller.
In some ways, that has been reassuring, a testament to the community’s cohesion.
But it has also been constricting. And in the immediate aftermath, a crush of outsiders swarmed into town: law enforcement officials, reporters and camera crews, politicians, evangelists, Meghan Markle, motorcycle gangs, people who came to help, and others who slowly drove through town, drawn by lurid curiosity — all creating a sense that Uvalde was stuffed well beyond capacity. At 58 words, this is one of the longest paragraphs in the story. Its fullness mirrors the crush of outsiders that swarmed into Uvalde. Was it a challenge to write? What I remember being a challenge was trying to distill the bigger thought: How being a small town could be a blessing and a curse in a moment like this. I like these runaway lists. I think it helps convey the chaos: It’s a lot to read it, so imagine being in the middle of it.
The crowds have largely retreated and the mountainous memorials have been consolidated. The void has been filled by a growing outrage, inflamed by revelations about apparently catastrophic miscalculations by law enforcement officials who responded to the shooting. You avoid damning the police outright. Why? We went into more detail with the police further down. I’d argue that it’s a pretty harsh assessment, but it has been such a moving target I felt it was important to recognize that. Perhaps that could have been expressed in a more pointed way.
And for months now, the community has been grappling with how much has been lost.
“As we deal with what has happened, we have a lot of questions without answers,” the Rev. Emmanuel Pacheco, the pastor of Church Time of Life in nearby Brackettville, told mourners on June 7.
“It’s OK to have questions,” he said. “And it’s OK to ask God why. God does not get offended by our questions.”
He was speaking at a viewing before the funeral for Xavier Lopez, 10. The boy lay in an open blue coffin with a Tejana that set on top and sunflowers placed around it. What’s Tejana? Did you think of explaining it? I believe it says it’s a hat in the story, and I think the reference to Tejano music after that gives a bit of conext to help a reader imagine what it is. Mostly I didn’t want to bog things down. X.J., as his family and friends called him, loved dancing to Tejano music and playing baseball.
The children were at an age where their families could see the people they were becoming — their talents, their personalities taking shape. Maite Rodriguez wanted to turn her passion for dolphins into a life as a marine biologist. Jacklyn Cazares — Jackie, as her family called her — talked ceaselessly about someday visiting Paris; a model of the Eiffel Tower sat on her bedroom dresser. In his 1927 book of lectures, “Aspects of the Novel,” the English novelist E.M. Forster drew a distinction between “flat and round” characters. Jacklyn is clearly a round one, fully drawn, while Maite is flat, introduced with just one reference to her life and she never appears again in the story. Why did you introduce her? That’s an interesting concept and I’m not sure I’ve thought about it that way. I wish I had an answer that made it seem like there was some larger rationale, but it was simply a matter of the reporting we had: Jackie’s family was the one we happened to spend all this time with. Could we have gone without the nod to Maite? Probably, but I feel like when an opportunity comes to name one of the victims, particularly when it comes to how they lived, then I’ll try to take it.
But families also held onto simple moments. As she spoke at his funeral, X.J.’s grandmother Amelia Sandoval reminisced about how warmly he greeted her every time she came to visit.
“We will always love you,” said Ms. Sandoval, her words overpowered by her sobs.
“I love you, baby.”]Amid the tides of frustration, anger, confusion and exhaustion, all of it eddying with sorrow, the early weeks of mourning also brought moments of profound kindness. “Eddying” is a perfect verb. How did you select it? I love a water metaphor! Perhaps it’s a bit of a crutch, but I was struggling to come up with the right term to describe how all of these sentiments were interacting with each other, and that seemed to click.You switch from dramatic narrative—scenes—to summary narrative, backing up to tell the reader information as you do in this graph? Why do you write this way? It’s like the Robyn Dixon story above, where we needed to alternate between big picture and close in, to effectively illustrate what was going on in Uvalde. If it were a pure narrative, we’d start with the Cazares family and then never leave their side. But they alone could not take us to all the places we needed to go and say all that we needed to say, so we have to deviate from that.
Every day, dishes were dropped off at the Cazareses’ house — one day, chicken Alfredo; another, enchiladas — part of a meal train that was organized to feed victims’ families. “It helps,” Jazmin Cazares said. “It helps so much.”
And whatever Uvalde couldn’t handle on its own, outsiders took care of, like personalized coffins for each of the children. One man built and erected a 15-foot cross that stands on a main street. Mariachi musicians from around the region performed in the plaza at the heart of the city. How did you settle on these two examples out of the many who came to help? I picked the coffins because Emily had incredible video of the coffins, and I wanted to nod to it in the text. And I had just talked to someone about the cross when I was writing, so the example was one of the first that came to mind. Together the examples showed that some of the support was very practical — they needed coffins for the victims — and other support were more symbolic gestures, and a 15-foot cross seemed emblematic of that kind of outside acknowledgment. How long did it take to write this story? Did it go through drafts and revisions? In a way, it took weeks to write, all the time that I spent reporting, absorbing the information and ruminating on it. In practical terms, I had been struggling to hunker down and get it done, so eventually I locked myself in a hotel in San Antonio for two or three days and just cranked it out. I checked the time stamps in the edit history: 12:44 p.m.; 7:06 p.m.; 1:48 a.m.; 3:36 a.m.; 5:21 a.m. Structurally, it stayed about the same from the first draft. What changed over the course of editing was trimming things down and Felice is very good at helping to clarify and condense some thoughts. Describe your writing process. Utter madness! Kidding aside, I’ve come to realize that “writing” is not just the time I’m sitting at the keyboard, particularly on something like this. There’s a period where my brain is digesting all of this reporting — the various scenes and quotes and information. I remember taking my dog for a walk and I was stringing together sentences in my head. But eventually, I just had to hunker down and pound it out. The file in the content management system — I write directly in that — is an absolute mess, filled with quotes and details and jotted thoughts. And I have a tendency to write the same paragraph over and over, making little tweaks until it feels right. I can’t imagine what editors think when they peek in and see that. But I like writing directly in the system (our internal NYT program is called Scoop) because it has a preview function where I can see what it will look like on our website. I find it helpful to be able to read it over in that way. I feel like I notice things reading there that I don’t see when I’m reading in the word processor file.
Huge sums of money were raised, though initially, the Cazareses decided against taking any.
“It didn’t feel right,” Gloria Cazares said. “What was it going to do? It’s not going to bring our baby back.”
Yet some in her extended family tried to persuade her to reconsider. Ms. Cazares works as a home health nurse, and Mr. Cazares has a glass installation business. The relatives asked when they expected to return to work. She didn’t have an answer.
“So, they said, OK, then you have to have a way to pay your bills,” Ms. Cazares said, recounting the conversation.
The family was still reluctant, but the point had gotten through.Jazmin Cazares recently sent her sister, Jackie, a text message. An abrupt switch. Did you worry that the reader might be lost at first? This was part of the beauty of the digital design. This comes after a long scroll through photos, so it serves as a section break. Reading it in that format, it felt like we were starting a new chapter.
“Don’t forget to wake up early. We have summer academy tomorrow.”
Her brain had slipped into an alternate universe where, the next morning, they would be starting the fine arts program that stages a play each summer. Did Jazmin describe it as an “alternate universe?” Fairly close. She said that had this moment where she just forgot and her brain took her to a world where the tragedy did not happen. Last year, it was “The Wizard of Oz.” (Jackie played a munchkin and a flying monkey; Jazmin did tech. This year, it was supposed to be “Beauty and the Beast.”
Reality came crashing back.
“It was like it just hit me all over again,” Jazmin said.
A rising high school senior, Jazmin was seven years older than Jackie, but they were close. They had their sisterly squabbles, sure. “It upset me so much how she would copy me,” Jazmin said. Jazmin wanted to be a veterinarian, so Jackie wanted to be a veterinarian. Jazmin sang and acted, so Jackie started singing and acting. “I went into her closet the other day, and I saw three shirts of mine that I don’t remember giving her,” she said.
That did not mean Jackie wasn’t her own person. Her mother said she thought her nickname should be spelled Jacky, but Jackie decided otherwise. When she encountered panhandlers, she nudged her parents to give them money or buy them food. Why did you decide to feature Jackie out of all the other children? That’s just how it worked out. They let us into their homes and their world, and we were also drawn to the arc of their story — from this feeling of powerlessness in losing their daughter to finding a way to take charge by jumping into activism. In the days after Jackie’s funeral, the Cazareses’ home bustled during the day. Cousins came and went. Ringo, Lily, Chiquita and Roxy, the family’s dogs, demanded attention.
But at night, Jackie’s absence was inescapable.
“Everybody’s gone,” Ms. Cazares said, “and it’s just us.”
Jackie’s parents had spent their lives in the Uvalde area. Their roots were here, and they could be enveloped in the care of their sprawling families.
But the Cazareses did not dissuade their children’s curiosity about possibilities outside of Uvalde, imagining lives in places they had never visited. Jackie’s older brother enlisted in the Marines. For a while, Jackie wanted to be a Marine, too, until her brother told her about having to wake up at 5 a.m. Then, she had Paris. Jazmin dreamed of going to a university in Britain.
Uvalde High School’s prom was held 10 days before the shooting. “I went to take pictures at my girlfriend’s house,” Jazmin said, “and Jackie was crying the entire time.”
“Why are you crying?” she asked her. “There’s no reason to cry.”
“And I remember her saying that you go to prom, that means you’re going to leave me soon.”
In one of the photographs from that night, Jackie’s face was stained with tears. She was wearing a shirt she had taken from Jazmin.
In the days and weeks after the massacre, the story of what actually happened kept shifting. The temperature kept rising. Here you shift to the law enforcement response? Why did you wait until now? The mission of the story was to focus on one particular chapter in the aftermath of a mass shooting — the stage that comes after the first wave of shock and horror, when the community negotiates this loss together. When we started the story, the fury over the police response was definitely in the backdrop, but the focus then was on the funerals and memorials and supporting the families. In fact, I remember Javier Cazares expressing that notion at one point: That once Jackie was buried, his new mission started.
The initial official narrative of a swift and heroic response by law enforcement quickly disintegrated. Within 48 hours, the community learned that officers had delayed — some 78 minutes — confronting the gunman.
Mass shootings have produced many activists, as families and survivors are spurred to leap into the fray over gun safety. The same was happening in Uvalde. But the police response added another dimension to the community’s anger — a fury stoked by each new fact that emerged: The police chief arriving on the scene without his radio; officers spending precious time searching for a key to open a classroom door without checking to see if it was unlocked; the police, captured on video, milling around in a hallway.
“We know he was to blame 100 percent,” Ms. Cazares said of the gunman, “but we don’t know how many kids could have been saved.” Why don’t you identify the gunman? There has been a rethinking broadly among journalists about how we cover these shootings, and one major element of that has been a push to be more judicious in publicizing the identities, photos and background of the perpetrators. There’s an argument that there’s a danger of glorifying them by giving them notoriety. I’m not sure where I fall on that. But I try to be deliberate about how and where I identify the gunmen in stories, if I do so at all. So, I ask myself: Is it necessary? What does it add to the story? Others might have a different opinion, and I totally respect that, but for me, in this instance where it was such a glancing reference, it did not feel necessary.
Javier Cazares believes his daughter could have been one of them. “If she got out in time,” he said.
Public meetings grew increasingly heated as the community demanded accountability. The Cazareses participated in a rally in Austin in June calling for tighter gun laws, carrying signs and telling the crowd about Jackie.
Mr. Cazares said that he was nervous and was not sure what to say, but he felt compelled to go and speak up. “It was powerful,” he said. “I’m willing to go out there and do as much as I can.”
If the circumstances were different — if Jackie were rehearsing for her part in “Beauty and the Beast” right now — he almost certainly would not be marching for more gun restrictions.
Mr. Cazares owns an AR-15, the devastatingly powerful rifle favored by gunmen in mass shootings. Since the attack, he has resolved to have his handgun with him more. He was upset with himself for leaving it behind the day of the shooting. Maybe, just maybe, an opportunity could have presented itself, he tells himself, and he could have taken out the gunman. How do you know this? He and other family members told me.
But he and his wife now argue that an 18-year-old, such as the Robb Elementary gunman, should not be allowed to buy that kind of weapon.
“We’re gun owners,” Ms. Cazares said. “We don’t want to take away guns — and especially in Texas, it’s Texas. But something has to change.”On July 10, a crowd assembled in front of Robb Elementary. Ms. Cazares was trying to get the protesters — the families of victims and survivors, residents, activists who had come from out of town — ready for a march. Jazmin was handing out water and taking her spot in the front.
The funerals were over. The memorial of flowers, crosses and posters that had consumed the town square had been dismantled, the plaza now conspicuously empty.
But the protest reflected the depth and intensity of the anger that remained.
One demonstrator carried a large poster with 21 coffins and the message, “This is a reminder of what you didn’t do.” Others had signs calling police officers “Cowards.”
“Not one more child!” the protesters chanted. I imagine there were many different signs and chants. How and why did you select these? Some of the chants were more vague — “No justice, no peace.” Out of the many signs, those stuck because of how powerful and pointed they were. These are incredibly strong words and images, and those signs very telegraphed the intensity of the anger this community was wrestling with.
Uvalde was now pushing into a new frontier of grief, its expressions of loss now tinged with indignation and imbued with a new sense of purpose. This is a really powerful line, the word “frontier” echoing the Texas culture. The word fit the geography, this vast scrubby stretch of Texas, and it reflect how this community was being forced to step into this agonizing new reality.
“This is for justice,” Jazmin told the crowd. “This is for accountability. But above everything, this is for our freaking kids.”Why did you end the story with the protest? Were other endings considered? I hadn’t written the story yet, but I’d actually left Uvalde when Tamir found out about the protest. Before finding out about it, I was considering ending with something to do with the Austin protest, but this was just perfect, being with the family and the community as they marched into this new, more complicated chapter in the aftermath of tragedy. I knew early on, though, that I wanted to end on the note of protesting. It reflects the arc of this family’s story, going from staggering loss to getting mobilized in this world of activism that they almost certainly would not have been pulled into had they not gone through this.
* * *
Thoughts from the editors
Meghan Louttit, deputy national editor for Visual Journalism/Projects
In projects like these, where there is a strong mix of text and visual elements to tell a story, there are a variety of ways in which those elements can inform and complement each other. Figuring out that relationship can be tricky, but is crucial to creating a story that is clear to the reader. Sometimes, it’s obvious that one element is telling a stronger story, and a piece can be crafted around that element. Sometimes the text and visual elements speak directly to each other, forming a focused narrative. Other times there are clear moments where a visual element can lift pieces of the story through context, but the text does the heavy lifting.
For some stories, this relationship can be directed from the start, but oftentimes, like for the Uvalde piece, we don’t have that luxury — whether it’s because of time or other logistical constraints, or the nature of the story itself — and we have to adjust on the fly.
We knew, based on the number of people we had in Uvalde and the access they were getting, that we would have an expansive set of photography and video capturing the range of emotions and activity in Uvalde in the weeks following the shooting. But we were also limited, based on that access, and a piece like this risks feeling visually and narratively incohesive. Ultimately, it’s the text that provides the narrative thread, clearly establishing structure (time and themes) that the photo and video edit follows, while also matching the mood and tone of the visuals. This allowed us to narrow down a visual edit into loose time periods, but also thematically, without having to be overly strict with how they line up with the text. Their main role is to establish a sense of place, allow the reader to connect emotionally with the people in the story and communicate mood.
Our process for many of these stories, where we have a large amount of visual elements to organize, is to go analog. We printed out all the photos and began organizing them into loose themes, taping selects to the wall, then narrowing down and adjusting from there. We went through many iterations, and the final edit was ultimately completed by Heather, our photo editor. But this exercise helped to clarify structure and narrow down the universe of items we were working with.
Felice Belman, assistant national editor (now the deputy metro editor)
As the word editor in a largely visual project, one big challenge for me was thinking about how closely the text needed to be married to the images. Did we need to account literally for every lovely, heartbreaking scene, or could the images and words simply complement each other? In the end, we did a little bit of both. Some passages in the story match the images. In other spots, the words and the images go in different directions.
Also of note: The initial concept for this story was somewhat different from where we ended up. We were all struck by the notion of such a small community having to put on so many funerals —- day after day after day, sometimes multiple funerals on a single day. Some of our early ideas were quite literally about all those funerals and what went into them emotionally and logistically. But access to the funerals was quite limited. And beyond that, we quickly realized that that framing was far too narrow to capture what Uvalde was actually coping with. So the season of funerals essentially became just the timeframe to tell a larger and much more human story.
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Chip Scanlanis an award-winning newspaper reporter who taught writing at The Poynter Institute for several years. He lives and writes in St. Petersburg, Florida, publishes Chip’s Writing Lessons and two new books,”Writers on Writing” and “Thirty-three Ways Not to Screw Up Your Writing.”