Elsa Avila slid to her phone, terrified as she held the bleeding side of her abdomen and tried to stay calm for her students.
In a text to her family that she meant to send to fellow Uvalde teachers, she wrote: “I’m shot.”
For the first time in 30 years, Avila will not be going back to school as classes resume on Tuesday in the small south Texas town.
The start of school will look different for her, as for other survivors of the May 24 shooting at Robb elementary school in which 21 people died, with an emphasis on healing, both physically and mentally.
Parents have expressed a range of fears, anxieties and hopes. Many said they were unsure whether they were putting their children in harm’s way by sending them off to school.
Some are frustrated and angry and said what they wanted most was an apology from the school board. A legislative committee’s report described a botched police response; nearly 400 local, state and federal officers stood in the hallway of the fourth-grade wing and outside the building for 77 minutes before finally entering the adjoining classrooms and killing the gunman.
State and federal investigations into the shooting are continuing. The district is working to complete new security measures, and the school board in August fired the district’s police chief, Pete Arredondo.
Residents say it remains unclear how or even if trust between the community and officials can be rebuilt even as some call for more accountability, better police training and stricter gun safety laws.
Robb elementary itself will never reopen. On Tuesday, some children and teachers have opted for virtual education, others for private school. Many will return to class at other Uvalde school district campuses.
“I’m trying to make sense of everything,” Avila said of the tragedy in an August interview, “but it is never going to make sense.”
A scar down her torso brings her to tears as a permanent reminder of the horror she endured with her 16 students as they waited in their classroom for an hour for help while a gunman slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in two adjoining classrooms nearby.
Minutes before she felt the sharp pain of the bullet piercing her intestine and colon, Avila was motioning students away from the walls and windows and closer to her.
A student lined up by the door for recess had just told her something was going on outside: people were running and screaming.
As she slammed the classroom door so the lock would catch, her students took their well-practiced lockdown positions.
Moments later, a gunman stormed into their fourth-grade wing and began spraying bullets before making his way into rooms 111 and 112.
In room 109, Avila repeatedly texted for help, according to messages reviewed by the Associated Press, first at 11.35am in the text to her family that she says was meant for the teacher group chat.
As Avila lay motionless, unable to speak loud enough to be heard, some of her students nudged and shook her. She wished for the strength to tell them she was still alive.
“The little girls closest to me kept patting me and telling me, ‘It’s going to be OK, Miss. We love you, Miss,'” Avila said, adding: “I am very proud of them because they were able to stay calm for a whole hour that we were in there, terrified.”
Finally, at 1.33pm, a window in her classroom broke. Officers arrived to evacuate them and a helicopter flew her to a San Antonio hospital, about 80 miles east.
Last month, Brett Cross had several questions for the Uvalde school board when it met, about the investigations, about security. His nephew, Uziyah Garcia, 10, was among those killed in the shooting. The boy lived with him and he considered him a son.
“They just keep trying to put Band-Aids on a gunshot wound,” Cross said in an interview after the meeting. “If they would just act on half the things they talk about, it might make us feel better.”
A spokeswoman for the school board did not respond to requests for comment.
Scenes of grief and heartbreak are visible daily in Uvalde.
One afternoon this week, an elderly couple stopped their car near the town square and took photos in front of a mural showing the beaming face of Jackie Cazares, nine, who was killed at Robb elementary.
“That’s my granddaughter,” said the man, turning to a passerby.
Another night, a woman and her two adolescent children stood amid wilted flowers and rain-soaked teddy bears, part of a memorial in front of the school.
They struggled to prop up a large photo of Jose Flores, 10, who died in the shooting.
Arnulfo Reyes was a fourth-grade teacher at Robb Elementary and was also shot by the gunman, who then turned his fire on Reyes’s 11 students, all of whom died.
When he lay wounded on his classroom floor, bleeding for over an hour, he says he felt abandoned.
Just one school administrator visited him in the hospital, where he had several surgeries, he said.
Now school is starting and his fellow teachers are heading back and Reyes misses the ritual of preparing a classroom for another year of students.
“And, again, nobody has contacted me. So there’s abandonment again,” said Reyes, who is convalescing at home.
Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has pushed back on calls by Uvalde families for new gun control measures, saying that, for example, it would be “unconstitutional” to raise the minimum age to 21 to purchase weapons like the one used by the 18 -year-old gunman, who had legally acquired the AR-15 style assault rifle.
Abbott is up for re-election in November and has expanded gun access after previous mass shootings in Texas. Critics challenge his assertion and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott, has made stronger gun control measures a centerpiece of his underdog campaign.