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Hiding tears, extra hugs, special treats. This is what parents did after Texas shooting

An FBI agent walks outside Robb Elementary School.
An FBI agent walks by Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday. Nineteen students and two teachers died when a gunman opened fire in a classroom Tuesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

On the morning after yet another school shooting, this one in Texas, Encino parent Sayeeh Shamtob decided to keep her two sons at home. Frances Robles reluctantly sent her daughter to her Granada Hills middle school — but grilled an administrator about campus security measures.

Kristina Wallace wondered how to explain the shooting to her children, who are in fourth and fifth grades, without frightening them. She hid her tears behind sunglasses when she dropped them off at their Northridge elementary school.

It’s nearly 1,300 miles between Los Angeles and Uvalde, the Texas town where a gunman opened fire on an elementary school classroom this week, killing 19 children and two adults. But news of the shooting reverberated through families and schools in the L.A. area as parents were overcome with a heart-stinging grief, moving them to change some of the everyday interactions with their children and acknowledge their pain and fears in myriad ways.

 A mother receives flowers from her young son.
Joanna Ramirez receives flowers from her son Jordan, right, when she picked up her children from Yorkdale Elementary School on Wednesday. She said that her oldest daughter was born the same day as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, so Tuesday’s shooting in Texas hit hard.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Parents hugged their children tighter. They lingered longer after putting them to bed. Some, like Robles, researched school safety measures; others prepared talks about the shooting, wanting to be the first to explain the horror.

And they felt pain for the Texas victims, who reminded them of their own children, whose lives were cut short when the suspect, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, opened fire in a fourth-grade classroom in Uvalde. Ramos was shot dead by law enforcement.

“The children had futures, and it was taken from them,” said Johny Garcia, whose two children attend Alexandria Avenue Elementary School in L.A.

The gunman posted his intentions on Facebook before shooting his grandmother, going to the elementary school and barricading himself in a classroom.

Vanessa Cañaveral, a photographer and mother of a first-grader in the Long Beach Unified School District, gave her son a longer hug and kiss than usual at the drop-off Wednesday morning. Then she went to the gym and cried in her car.

When she first heard about the shooting Tuesday, she hid in the bathroom when she needed to cry. She could barely sleep. When she did, she had nightmares.

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“This one hit me so differently,” she said. “Every time I would come across an update, I would cry and cry and cry.”

She had wanted to keep her son home Wednesday, but his first school talent show is coming up, and she couldn’t bear making him miss rehearsal. He’s excited about singing his kid-friendly version of “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars, and has been practicing hard. Cañaveral said her son — a chatty boy with lots of friends — loves his first year of public school after being kept home during his preschool and kindergarten years.

But she is strongly considering home-schooling him again.

“This was literally my biggest fear in sending him to school,” Cañaveral said of the shooting.

Cañaveral has not talked to her son about the Texas shooting. What would she say? she asked with a sigh.

Texas school shooting: How to help kids get through unspeakable horror

Many parents were asking themselves that same question.

Wallace, the Northridge parent, is open with her children about politics, war and sex education. But she struggled to discuss the shooting and sought advice from another parent to make sure her children felt safe. Eventually, she told her 8-year-old that “someone in Texas hurt some children with a gun.”

Her daughter looked at her and asked, “Someone hurt them on purpose?”

When Wallace replied yes, her daughter asked, “But why would you do that on purpose?”

Wallace, taken aback, told her daughter that sometimes bad people hurt good people. But that she would do everything she could to keep her safe.

Robles was more explicit with her daughter, a sixth-grader at Patrick Henry Middle School. On the drive to school Wednesday, she reminded her how to be safe: Know where the exits are. Keep an eye on your surroundings. If a shooter comes in, play dead. Her daughter accepted the advice without question.

“I’m giving her this advice just to go to school … this is unbelievable,” Robles said.

But the images of the children killed in Texas hit home further, Robles said — children around her daughter’s age, many looked like they could be family members.

“I see these kids in my family,” she said. “The girl in the baseball uniform, she looks just like my goddaughter.”

Erica Bakalyar, a Torrance parent of two sons — 4 years old and 15 months old — thought about telling her older boy how to hide from bad guys. But she didn’t want to scare him, so she didn’t bring it up.

When her boys got home from day care and preschool Tuesday, she wrapped the younger one in a big hug. Before dinner, her oldest son wanted a Lunchable. He got it. He wanted to just watch videos. He was allowed. And later that night, when he showed off a song he was learning at school, she broke down in tears.

“I was thinking of the parents who won’t have this,” she said. “I just want to cherish what these parents [in Texas] don’t have anymore.… We just kind of went through the whole night, playing and being in the moment and hugging.”

The names and stories of those killed in the Texas school shooting are emerging as the stunned community of Uvalde tries to cope with Tuesday’s attack.

Shamtob, 38, has two sons who attend an L.A. Unified elementary school in Encino who are the same ages — 10 and 11 — as some of the students gunned down in Uvalde.

She was reluctant to keep them home after her boys missed more than a year of in-person classes during the pandemic and were overjoyed to be back. But she made the tough call to do so, worried about a copycat shooter. She wanted her sons to hear about the Uvalde shooting from her instead of friends or teachers. And she just wanted them close to her.

Tuesday night, after she put her boys to bed, she sat in their room for an extra half an hour or so after they closed their eyes and watched them sleep.

“I just wanted to spend the day with them and be thankful that I have them,” Shamtob said.

On Wednesday, she talked to her youngest son about the shooting, only to find out he had already heard about it on TikTok. She tried to assure him that his school has protocols in place — they do lockdown drills all the time, she said — and that he could always ask her questions and tell her if he was scared.

Now she wonders whether she should send them back to school for the last few days of the academic year.

“I’m stressed. I’m worried. I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow,” she said Wednesday afternoon.

“I just want change. If I’m going to drop them off somewhere, I need to know I can pick them up.”

Some high school students made their own decision to stay home. Kenji Horigome, a senior at Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, said he and at least four of his friends skipped school Wednesday because they were unsettled both by the Texas shooting and a school notification Tuesday about a “disturbing image” sent to a student on Instagram. Although school police determined that the threat was not credible and students were safe, Kenji and others stayed home.

“When my other friends said they were going to be safe, I said, ‘OK, I’m going to stay home too and make sure nothing happens.’ ”

Kenji said he supported gun ownership in some circumstances — rifles for those who live in rural areas and need them for defense against wild animals — but said it was “ridiculous” that assault rifles are not banned.

“Having these kind of guns is such an unnecessary thing,” he said. “If you didn’t have them you wouldn’t have school shootings and kids dying.”

At John C. Fremont High School, Natalie Larios, a senior, expressed frustration with officials who refuse to act to stem gun violence. It is so common in her South L.A. community, she said, that she grew up going through lockdown drills, where her teachers identify hiding places. When she enters a classroom or goes somewhere in public, she finds herself looking around for a place to hide.

“There needs to be a change,” she said — adding that it will probably be her generation and other young people who do something.

At Yorkdale Elementary in Highland Park, parents gathering for pickup also voiced frustration at political inaction despite one mass shooting after another.

Joanna Ramirez remembers all too well the nation’s worst school shooting, which killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. That’s because it occurred on the day her oldest daughter was born — Dec. 14, 2012.

“Not even nine years have passed and nothing has changed,” said Ramirez, 30. “It’s my nightmare.”


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