The United States experiences so many mass shootings that journalists do not usually linger 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 independent photojournalist based in Austin, traveled to Uvalde shortly after the shootings — but he kept coming back. Tamir temporarily moved to Uvalde to live alongside the victims’ families, renting a 320-square-foot shipping container converted into a home.
We’re devoting today’s newsletter to some of the photographs Tamir has taken over the past year and to excerpts from his interviews with families.
“The grieving cycles do not match the media cycles,” Tamir told us. “We move on, but families don’t.”
Marking the holidays
Xavier “X.J.” Lopez, 10, loved Christmas. He loved going to Uvalde’s annual extravaganza, an event with light displays, decorations and holiday music. So this past Christmas — their first without XJ — his parents, Abel Lopez and Felicha Martinez, and his siblings went to honor him.
The soundtrack of a children’s choir played as they walked through the event. Then, they heard a loud blast that sounded like gunfire — an overloaded transformer had burst. Felicha had a panic attack and collapsed on the grass.
“These days are supposed to be happy,” she said later that evening. “But they are just reminders that our lives are torn apart.”
The weekend before Tess Mata, 10, died, she told her older sister Faith that she wanted to learn how to swim. Faith was about to begin her senior year at Texas State University, where students jump into a river on campus as a graduation tradition. Tess wanted to take part with her big sister.
On her graduation day this month, Faith walked with her family to the river. Then she jumped in, clutching a photo of Tess. The photo was a sweet symbol — but also a painful reminder.
“Tess looks exactly like Faith,” Veronica Mata, their mother, said. “So the other day she came and she told me, she’s like, ‘I’m so sorry that you have to look at me every day and think of Tess.’”
Visiting their graves
The cemetery where most of the victims are buried has become an anchor in the lives of their families and friends. They have gathered together for graveside birthdays and holidays. They mow the lawn, decorate the headstones and lie on the lush grass that has taken hold.
Caitlyne Gonzales, 11, who lost many of her friends in the shooting, comes to the cemetery to visit them. On a recent evening, she stopped by Jackie Cazares’s grave and played Taylor Swift music. She sang and danced and took selfies. For a moment, it was as if they were all together again.
Protests and vigils
Many of the parents have found purpose in activism. Brett Cross, the uncle of Uziyah Garcia, 10, who was raising him as a son, spent 10 days camped outside the school district offices in protest, alongside other family members and supporters. They demanded that school police officers be suspended over their role in the delayed response.
The protest ended when the district halted its school police department’s operations and placed two officials on leave.
Family members have also testified before lawmakers on both the state and federal levels and protested beyond Uvalde. Tamir said that an image of Jackie Cazares’s parents, Javier and Gloria, at an annual gun violence vigil in Washington, D.C., surrounded by other survivors of gun violence, was one of the most powerful moments he’s witnessed.
“It’s important to see each of these family members as part of a nationwide network of people intimately affected by gun violence,” he said. “It’s one that is growing each day.”
You can see more of Tamir’s photos here.
Tamir Kalifa contributed reporting and photography.
ARTS AND IDEAS
The show goes on
The Tony Awards will look different this year, but they will go on, after a group of playwrights convinced the striking Hollywood writers’ union not to picket the show.
As part of the agreement, the awards show will have no scripted material. But it will feature the usual razzle-dazzle performances from 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.