Uvalde teacher who survived shooting makes urgent plea for change

Arnulfo Reyes, who lost 11 of his students as law enforcement stood by outside his classroom, calls for new gun laws

Mourners embrace outside a funeral home in Uvalde, Texas, at a ceremony for one of the victims of the mass shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead [Marco Bello/Reuters]

May 24 was supposed to be a day of celebration at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

It was the end of the school year, and fourth-grade teacher Arnulfo Reyes was watching a movie in Room 111 with 11 of his students when they heard the sound of gunfire.

Reyes told his students to hide under their desks.

At 11:33am, a gunman burst through the door of the adjoining classroom, Room 112.

By the time law enforcement confronted the gunman, more than an hour later, Reyes was fighting for his life on his classroom floor after having been shot twice. All 11 of his students were dead.

In an emotional interview with ABC News on Tuesday, Reyes offered a wrenching account of the mass shooting that left 21 dead, including two of Reyes’s coworkers, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, and 19 students, aged nine to 11.

In the interview, Reyes criticised law enforcement officials who refused to confront the gunman, and he made an impassioned and emotional plea for new gun laws that would make it more difficult to buy weapons like that used by the shooter.

“The laws have to change,” Reyes said.

“I will not let these children and my coworkers die in vain. I will go anywhere, to the end of the world, to not let my students die in vain.”

In the aftermath of Uvalde, one of the most deadly school shootings in the last decade, the response of law enforcement has come under heavy scrutiny. In his interview, Reyes articulated the criticism of that response.

By 11:35am, according to ABC, there were seven police officers in the hallway outside the room where Reyes was fighting for his life, and where his students were being shot.

But law enforcement did not enter the room to confront the attacker.

Reyes said that a child in Room 112 cried out for help, yelling “Officer, we’re in here!”

The officers remained outside, and Reyes said that the gunman then walked into the room and shot the child who had cried out for help.

As time passed, more officers entered the hallway outside the classroom, but they refused to enter the classroom even as those in the rooms made numerous calls to 911 begging for help, and parents outside beseeched law enforcement to go in.

It was not until 12:50pm, one hour and 17 minutes after the attacker had first entered the classroom, that a unit from the US Customs and Border Patrol entered the classroom and killed the attacker.

The interviewer asked Reyes if he felt abandoned by law enforcement.

“Absolutely. You have a bulletproof vest. What did I have?” he asked. “You’re supposed to protect and serve. There is no excuse for their actions. I will never forgive them.”

But two weeks after the shooting, calls from Reyes and those demanding action to tighten restrictions on firearms access do not seem poised to carry the day.

While President Joe Biden has called on Congress to pursue gun control measures, such legislation is unlikely to get far in the US Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority and face massive opposition from Republican lawmakers, with 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster.

In recent weeks, other people impacted by gun violence have come forward to demand action from elected officials. The Associated Press reported that the son of Ruth Whitfield, an 86-year-old woman murdered in a racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, excoriated the Senate Judiciary Committee for their lack of results.

“What are you doing? You were elected to protect us … Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?” Garnell Whitfield Jr asked.

“If there is nothing then, respectfully, senators … you should yield your positions of authority and influence to others that are willing to lead on this issue.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies