UVALDE, Texas — From Texas rapper and activist Trae tha Truth, to experts who have responded to other tragedies in the state, many are working to make sure the Uvalde community has the mental healthcare necessary to recover from the trauma of the shooting at Robb Elementary.
Trae (Frazier Othel Thompson III) was back in Uvalde Tuesday morning at the memorial outside the school. He was just in Buffalo, New York, where ten people were killed in a racially motivated attack at a grocery store. He's been speaking with families of the victims and working with the funeral home, and came back to attend the funeral for 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza.
"A lot of pain, a lot of hurt, a lot of questions," he said. "You ask yourself, 'Why would something like this happen?' or 'How could something like this happen?'"
There are no answers to those questions that will lessen the pain of the 21 families who lost loved ones, or the trauma experienced by the entire community.
"Stuff like this shouldn't happen," he said. "They're children. At a moment like this, it's very, very vital that we focus on uplifting the families."
That's why he's working to meet the mental healthcare needs of the town.
"Me and Never Walk Alone, we're providing free therapy, counseling, for not just the families of the victims but even kids that went to the school, family members of the children," Trae said. "We're trying to do what we can, be there to uplift them and have their back."
Another group working to meet the community's need for mental healthcare is the Ecumenical Center. Mary Beth Fisk is the CEO, and she has been in Uvalde all week with her team.
"We've been working with the children and families of those who have lost children and adults, as well as those who were in the classroom area, faculty and students and their families and the community at large because it's a traumatic event for all," she said. "And we've seen different degrees of trauma that each is carrying with them at this time. And we know the process for processing through that trauma to get to a healthier place will take a long while."
This is not the first time the Ecumenical Center has responded to a mass shooting. Their first was at the church in Sutherland Springs.
"We still do have counseling offices in that community, and in those neighboring communities as well," she said, noting that the grief will remain. "We also have individuals who traveled out to the El Paso event and consulted with Santa Fe. And now we're here in Uvalde."
Fisk said that it is vitally important to provide help when the trauma is fresh in the minds of those who experienced it.
"We need to be here to provide counseling from licensed professionals, whether they're LPC, clinical social workers or psychologists. We have all of the above specialties. For sure, those who work with pediatric patients through adults and families of those credentials here on the ground and will continue to serve them. We do have some limited resources in the psychiatric side of things, but we do certainly hope there'll be additional resources," she said. "But the first line is going in and being able to be present with the families, to offer them comfort and support, and then to begin doing some of that deeper work in trauma recovery in the days and weeks to come."
The path to recovery is long, and difficult, and deeply personal to each individual going through it.
"We know that evil has touched this community and we know that faith is something that many of the families and even those who are here supporting the families are holding on to," Fisk said. "But there's much recovery to come. We know that grief is enduring and trauma and working through trauma is a journey as well. Having special tools such as EMDR to work through trauma for children, play therapy and some specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy for families, and relationship counseling, because so often it's a challenge for many that lose a child, they may be headed toward divorce."
Fisk mentioned Alpha-stim, a program the Army has used for some time that uses electrical impulses. She said the EMDR process works off of the patients nervous system, and can help the brain begin to organize seemingly impossible thoughts. She said the Ecumenical Center has staff specially trained in both, and those services will be available to the victims of Uvalde.
That path to recovery is full of ups and downs. There's no right answer on how fast or slow to go, and no real end destination, just the goal of getting a bit better.
"It's a difficult time because everyone's at their own pace. There's no timeline. Many have suggested that there is a timeline and phases, you go through them linearly. And what we know, even from personal experience, is it's not linear. You may be here one day and their next day, and it's back and forth," Fisk said. "It's a journey. We all know, and have likely experienced after a loss, that there is a season of such sadness. But we also know that with either our faith or as we walk with others who've gone down that same pathway, that the burden will get a little lighter. We don't want folks to lose hope. We know that there's a hole in our heart if we've lost a loved one, and it's there and will ever be present, but things will get better as you move forward and walk through your journey."
Taking the first steps of that journey with so many grieving families is hard for Fisk and her team, but it's what they signed up to do.
"It's overwhelming sadness," she said. "The environment you see, if you're human, your heart is touched. We know, though, that we are here to serve, and our teams of counselors and peer support specialists and those that are in the trauma specialty arena, they're specially trained for this. We all have the same opportunities of debriefing after working with families, and that's very important."
Fisk also spoke about trauma informed care, a set of best practices for accommodating victims of trauma. They practice it, and they also teach and certify other groups.
"This distinction helps us really alter our policies and procedures to be very sensitive to those who have been traumatized, both our clients coming in to be served as well as our own staff. It does improve the ability to serve folks in this particular way," she said. "Many organizations have trained their staff certification, just looked at the whole picture, not only of your staff, but of your building and of your physical space and your policies and procedures. So we strongly encourage organizations that serve others to look into this, and we're happy to answer any questions that they might have."
If you'd like to support the Ecumenical Center in their work, they accept donations and volunteers have been assembling trauma kits filled with supplies to help children.
Trae said that he hasn't really sat still for a week and a half while bouncing between Uvalde and Buffalo, and that he hasn't had a chance to sit down and talk to his own children about what's happening.
"Last night I came back to Houston, took my little girl in the bed, and as she went to sleep, I come out here on a plane," he said. "She wakes up and I'm in Uvalde. I'm pretty sure it's a conversation we're gonna have to have."
The rapper favors direct action when there's a need. 'Relief Gang' has become famous for assisting at disasters in Texas and beyond over the past five years, from hurricanes and winter storms to mass shootings. He doesn't like getting into politics, but did say that he believes it's too easy to get a gun.
"Even if we're gonna allow people to have, or to easily get guns, they need to do certain types of background checks. There needs to be a record, you need to check people's mental stability," he said. "You gotta think, there's so many other things that people may try and get, whether its a car or anything else, they have to jump through hurdles to comfortably get it. But now, at the age of 18, you can walk in and get (a gun)."
If you're wondering how you can give back to the Uvalde community, Trae has simple advice.
"Anything they can find in their heart," he said. "Sometimes it's not about just raising money. People make thoughts in their head like, 'Ah there's nothing I can do, I wish I could.' There's a million things you could do," he said. "You may come out here and just be here for the people, you may feed the people, you may help them when they're yelling and crying. You may be able to assist with something. You've just got to try."
The town of Uvalde is filled with grief and pain, but it is also filled with love and support, and people who want to do anything they can to help. It's like Mr. Rogers said, "Look for the helpers, you will always find people helping."
There is no shortage of people who came from near and far to help in this town.
On a day so hot that prayer candles melted in the sun, countless individuals handed out bottles of cold water.
As mourners young and old cried outside the school, there were kind people and service dogs there to comfort them.
A group of men at the town square wore bright red shirts that said "Free Hugs," and they'd given out over a thousand slices of free pie as well.
A grief counselor sat with mourners, gave them as much time and compassion as they needed in that moment, and then found a quiet place to grieve herself.
No matter what you do, you can do something for Uvalde. You've just got to try.