One girl runs and hides when she sees thin people with long hair similar to the gunman's who stormed into her Uvalde school and killed 21 people. One boy stopped making friends and playing with animals. A third child feels her heart race when she's reminded of the May 24 massacre that killed a close friend—once at such a dangerous pace that she had to be rushed to a hospital, where she stayed for weeks. The 11-year-old girl has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She and her family spoke to the AP on condition her name not be used. "I never lost someone before," she said, adding that her slain friend used to encourage her through hard times. "She was a very strong person."
As students prepare to return to school in Uvalde on Tuesday for the first time since the massacre at Robb Elementary, PTSD symptoms are starting to show. Parents are finding themselves unable to help, and experts worry because communities of color such as the largely Hispanic city face disparities in access mental health care. For low-income families, it can be even harder, as access to limited resources requires long waits for referrals through medical assistance programs such as Medicaid. "It's hard hearing what these kids are going through at such a young age," said Yuri Castro, a mother of two boys whose cousin was killed in the shooting. The two slain teachers once taught her sons. Castro knows of children so traumatized they have stopped speaking.
School shootings dramatically upend survivors' lives. For some, symptoms linger for years, and high-quality treatment can be difficult to find. In recent years, Texas lawmakers have focused on spending money on mental health services, devoting more than $2.5 billion during the current fiscal year. But according to the 11-year-old girl's family, the only mental health center in the area—just blocks from Robb Elementary—was seldom used or discussed, raising worries about the lack of awareness regarding signs of mental illness and the stigma surrounding seeking help. The mother of the 11-year-old girl whose racing heart led to her hospitalization says open conversations about mental health were previously taboo in the community.
The mother of a survivor said her daughter can only open up to a priest in Houston—280 miles away—whom the family sees when visiting relatives. "This is going to be a long journey. This is not going to be something that we can just do some work and fix it," said San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller. One expert said survivors of past mass shootings didn't exhibit symptoms for six months. Treatment can last up to three years. Parents of the incoming fifth-grader chose to home-school her this year so she can go to appointments more easily. She is getting a service dog who will alert her if her heart rate rises. But she worries about her brothers returning to class, and she is awakened daily by night terrors. "We don't sleep. ... We don't even know what that is anymore since this has happened," her mother said. "I am going to have to deal with that for however long it takes for her to heal."
(Read more Uvalde mass shooting