UVALDE, Texas — For several of the children who survived the shooting inside their classroom at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas one year ago, the parents will tell you their innocence was lost.
Parents describe their children having anxiety, depression, insomnia and an inability to speak the way they used to.
But something else happened. Something so beautiful, that a WFAA crew decided to travel to Uvalde to witness it themselves.
Sometimes in life we need to catch a break, especially after experiencing something so traumatic and you feel no one understands.
In the case of children who survived the mass shooting in Uvalde on May 24, 2022, their trauma will be lifelong.
In April 2023, WFAA's Cynthia Izaguirre met with four survivors and their families.
Izaguirre asked 10-year-old AJ Martinez how he's been doing lately.
"My emotions have changed a lot over the past months. Like I get sad, or I get mad," he said.
AJ was shot, along with 10-year-old Kendall Olivarez and 10-year-old Gilbert Mata, while hiding with 12-year-old Miah Cerrillo in room 112 for 77 horrific minutes.
"It's like they get me. Like they know what I've been through," said AJ.
He and Gilbert sat side by side, wanting to do the WFAA interview together.
"He's been helping me a lot by making me laugh," said Gilbert about AJ.
Slowly over the last several months, the joy of laughter can be heard again at Miah's home in Uvalde too. The 12-year-old was one of the little heroes who was brave enough to call 9-1-1.
"I can't explain it, but it gives me hope," said Abigale Veloz about the bond these children have forged over the last year.
Veloz is Miah's mother. She's also the mom who invites everyone to hang out at her place.
When the families of all four of the survivors get together, it's typically at Veloz' home. They play together, eat together and cry together.
When asked how she's been doing lately, Miah answered with three words.
"I'm doing okay."
But when her new best friend Kendall shows up at her house, so do the giggles! When the two girls sat down for the WFAA interview they burst into a roaring laughter.
"I'm laughing so hard! Tears are coming out," said Kendall.
"When I tell her stuff she understands what I say," she said when describing her friendship with Miah.
"Her smile," Miah said about what she loves most about Kendall. "She makes me laugh, because she makes funny faces."
When something triggers the horrors of that dreadful day, these children find refuge in one another.
"At night if they can't sleep 'cuz they're having bad dreams, one will call the other one and say I can't sleep 'cuz of this and this. Then the other ones are like, are you okay? Do you need something?" said Veloz.
These classmates and their parents have started to share something.
"I have a special kind of bond with them," said AJ.
The mothers and fathers say they have also formed a bond with one another.
"It's beautiful. She (Kendall) loves coming over here, playing with the kids. They have their own group chat," said Cristine Olivarez, Kendall's mother.
AJ's mother Kassandra Chavez becomes emotional when talking about what their families leaning on each other has meant.
"I didn't know how to get his innocence back that was taken away that day. And him being here, he's got a little bit of that back just because he's with his classmates," said Chavez.
"It's like they have their own therapy within themselves," said Gilbert's stepdad Michael Martinez. He has raised Gilbert since he was 2 years old.
Gilbert's mother, Cornia Camacho agrees that the children playing with one another is like therapy.
"Now that we've been hanging around with these kids, it's like he's happier," she said about her son Gilbert.
The innocence lost because of evil, is beginning to return for these families because of hope.
Through tears, Kassandra Chavez said she knows this newfound family will help AJ, and he will help them.
"They're always there to help each other out and that's good, because if something were to happen to me or my husband, at least I know my son is being taken care of by his friends," she said wiping away tears.
AJ said he and his friends want something simple for the world.
"To not go through what we went through," he said.
And when asked what he was looking forward to this summer, his answer wasn't what WFAA expected to hear.
He said something no child should ever have to think twice about.
"I want to be safe," he said. "I want to be happy again."
The children aren't looking forward to the one-year mark, but they've got their minds on something else.
They're currently planning a trip to Disneyland in California.
They've set up a GoFundMe and are so close to their goal! Click here if you would like to donate. The families are grateful for the generosity.