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'Two of my close friends lost people in there': Navigating grief during a time of crisis

The process takes time, sometimes even months or years. Family Service and the Children's Bereavement are among the groups offering help to those in need.

UVALDE, Texas — It’s during moments of tragedy when communities show the power of unity and ultimate will to overcome such dark times.

Uvalde High junior Jarrett Hernandez roams the streets surrounding his old elementary school, wondering: "Why?"

“I’m just trying to still believe this happened at the school I grew up going to,” Hernandez said.

Robb Elementary, once a site of mass murder, was adorned Wednesday with the love of a close-knit community as flowers decorated the school’s stone sign.

“It felt like a home to me. I felt safe here,” Hernandez said. “It’s scary, honestly. I had close ones in there, like family members. It was very sad, just tragic. Two of my close friends, they're siblings, they lost one, they lost people in there."

Residents of Uvalde are filled with anguish, fear and endless questions after 19 students and 2 teachers were shot and killed Tuesday morning. The gunfire rang out just two days before the school year was set to wrap up.

Marcella Hayes serves as a counselor at the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas. As a mother herself, she said she can’t imagine the pain parents of the shooting victims are experiencing right now.

“It’s really difficult and challenging to understand what is happening right now and why it happened," Hayes said. "So imagine a child in their stage of development trying to understand what’s going on."

Learning how to cope through the grieving process is different for everyone. It can take weeks, months and even years for some people diminish the grief to a point where they’re able to function in life without feeling such overwhelming trauma.

“I think that what we can do is provide a safe space for them (children) to openly ask the questions that people are not ready to hear,” Hayes said. “Just help one another, be there one another. But also to be able to take care of ourselves.”

San Antonio-based nonprofit Family Service is among the organizations actively helping families impacted by the mass-casualty event.

“Our hearts just sank to hear that yet another mass shooting in a school, in an elementary school, in a very close-knit, family-oriented community,” said Mary Garr, Family Service president and CEO.

Family Service is providing a host of counseling services to a community the organization’s been established in since 2000.

Immediate and long-term counseling is being offered by additional teams of licensed counselors deployed to Uvalde.

Talking to children about the events of May 24, 2022 will take time, and how to go about discussing the tragedy varies from child to child.

“For children, youth, teens, adults, just having conversations, making sure your child feels safe and secure in their home and outside and feel safe to be able to go back to school,” Garr said.

A community in crisis is now beginning that long journey of healing. Help is out there for the long haul.

“I hate to say that time heals all wounds because everybody’s processing is different and the healing is different, but Uvalde is a very strong community. A lot of family, neighbors that come together and sadly coming together in a time of crisis right now is something that they know they have to do and are doing and will do,” Garr said.

To contact Family Service, call 830-448-9630. To contact the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, call 210-412-6923.

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