When Uvalde school bus driver Sylvia Uriegas got the call on May 24 to report to Robb Elementary, she had no idea about the horror she was approaching.
With nothing but a rudimentary first aid kit filled mostly with Band Aids, Uriegas had been called to the scene of one of the nation’s worst mass school shootings — with no training for the important role she would play as the chaotic scene unfolded.
When Uriegas and two other bus drivers, who were taking kids to a field trip at a nearby park, reached the school, the streets were swarmed with law enforcement and parents. The central office dispatcher who asked her to report to the school had warned of an “emergency” — but said no more.
With her normal path to the building blocked, Uriegas backed her bus up and found another route. The two other school buses followed. Another driver opened her door and asked a bystander what was happening. Only then did they learn that there was an active shooter inside Robb.
Ultimately, Uriegas’ bus became a makeshift ambulance that carried kids with gunshot wounds to the hospital.
“We’re not first responders,” Uriegas said. “But then we were.”
Her experience echoes many of the stories from Uvalde on that day. Chaos, unclear chains of command and confusion about protocol prevented an effective response that could have saved at least a few of the 19 children and two teachers slain by the lone gunman. Police waited 77 minutes after the shooter entered the school before they stormed the classroom where he was holed up with dying children and teachers.
Once the classroom was breached, officials lacked the resources and coordination needed to provide the proper medical response.
Though Uriegas did save lives, it made her aware of a glaring hole in the district’s school safety plan.
“I could have gone in knowing a little bit better,” Uriegas said. “But we’ve never been trained.”
Other than speaking at school board meetings asking for better training, she kept her thoughts and feelings to herself, knowing what she saw and experienced could not compare to the parents who had lost children, and the survivors themselves.
But when she ran into some of the family members of slain 9-year-old Jackie Cazares, they urged her to tell the story from the driver’s seat — the full scope of all that had gone wrong, of the mishandling and lack of preparedness needed to be made public, they said.
As the passage of time and the levity of the holidays pushes the tragedy from the headlines, Uriegas and the families don’t want complacency to set in, for Uvalde to forget just how unprepared it had been.
So Uriegas has decided to tell her story.
And you should read it. One infuriating detail is that neither Uriegas nor other bus drivers who helped ferry traumatized children to the reunification center after the shooting received any counseling provided by the school district. She got some for herself anyway, and is still very much dealing with her own post-traumatic stress. All I can say is God bless you, Sylvia Uriegas, and your fellow bus drivers. Please do keep telling your stories.