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Candles are lit during a community prayer for the shooting victims at Robb Elementary in Uvalde on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Pharr. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The mass killing of school children at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde has sent shockwaves of grief and bewilderment throughout the state and the country.

Located not far from the region, the effects of Tuesday’s shooting have resonated with local leaders in the Rio Grande Valley, who reacted to news of the shooting and killing of 19 elementary school children and two teachers in Uvalde with heartbreak.

The city of Pharr held a community prayer event Wednesday, where residents gathered in support of the victims and their families. Parents attended with their children, many clutching them and keeping them close as heads were bowed.

“It is truly heartbreaking and utterly devastating to fathom what the school district and community of Uvalde, Texas are going through,” Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez said in a statement prior to Wednesday evening’s event. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims, students, parents, and community.

“Today, our Pharr community will stand united in prayer for everyone affected by this senseless tragedy, may our prayers help them find strength, healing, and peace.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said in his own statement that the community joined Uvalde in mourning.

“As details of the tragedy in Uvalde emerge, we cannot help but suffer together,” Cortez stated Wednesday morning. “An attack on any child is an attack on the moral fabric of our society. We cannot allow that to happen. Let us grieve together and in that grief, let us find a common ground that honors the memory of these children and of their teachers by forging a solution to prevent this need to grieve in the future.”

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, shared similar sentiments Tuesday evening.

“The gravity of the situation is unimaginable and incomprehensible,” Gonzalez stated. “The loss of a child to senseless violence is something that a parent should not have to go through, and we need to be committed to ending the epidemic of gun violence across the country. South Texas is a strong and resilient community, but we cannot let tragedies like this persist.”

Omahar Padillo holds on to his son Omahar Jr., 12, during a community prayer for the shooting victims at Robb Elementary in Uvalde on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Pharr. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

School district officials reacted by announcing measures taken in the wake of the shooting, with several upping security measures.

Still, McAllen ISD Board President Tony Forina indicated it may not be enough.

“I’m sorry to hear that that happened,” Forina said. “I wonder if everything that we’ve put in place already is going to protect us. I would hate to hear that any Valley school district, especially McAllen ISD, was put in that situation.”

Forina’s comments came just over 24 hours after 18-year-old Salvador Ramos gunned down 21 people with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle at the Uvalde elementary campus.

Tuesday’s shooting also marked the 213th mass shooting this year alone, and the 27th school shooting this year.

“Unfortunately, they are becoming more and more common, but I don’t think anybody has really addressed the root of the problem,” Forina said. “There’s so much speculation that goes on for days after, but in the end there is no definite resolution.”

When asked about the security of the McAllen ISD campuses, Forina referred to the Tax Ratification Election that voters approved in September 2018. The TRE created $7 million in additional funding, some of which went to enhancing security.

“Now each and every McAllen ISD campus has an armed police officer on its campus,” Forina said. “With the help of those who are on patrol, it shouldn’t be more than two minutes before backup arrives should a situation occur. Now, those are a long two minutes when you’re in a situation, but we hope we can come to a resolution before we need backup.”

In a news release, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD announced that all campuses have been placed on high alert for the remainder of the school year.

“Due to the recent tragedy in Uvalde, our PSJA ISD Police Department is coordinating with our Tri-City Emergency Response Teams, PSJA Security Department, and all Principals to enhance safety, especially around the perimeter of our schools,” the release read. “PSJA ISD is committed to the safety of all and is prepared to respond in an emergency.”

The district’s enhanced security measures include police officers and members of the security team reporting to campuses earlier, greater police presence at all schools and district properties, continuing to use cybersecurity intel to monitor activity on social media, continuing ​​to run daily safety audits and 24-hour surveillance of all schools and facilities, and recurring communication with tri-city police departments.

Donna ISD announced new protocols for the remainder of the school year in the wake of the shooting. Those protocols include no longer allowing backpacks on campus, limiting campus accessibility to parents and guardians with proper identification, and additional “safety support” at all campuses.

Edinburg CISD has also placed all campuses on high alert for the remaining school days in the wake of the school shooting. Board President Dominga “Minga” Vela said trustees met Tuesday evening and discussed enhancing safety measures for all campuses.

“We asked (Superintendent Mario Salinas) to review the safety plan again,” Vela said.

She added that Salinas had canceled a meeting with district administrators to make sure that they remain at their campuses.

“The next 10 days that we have left in school, we’re going to really lockdown our schools and be very vigilant about who comes on campus,” Vela said.

Vela, who is a former principal and teacher, was noticeably distraught as she shared her thoughts about the shooting in Uvalde. She said her thoughts remain with the young children and their parents whose lives were forever changed Tuesday morning.

“I’m brokenhearted. I’m devastated,” Vela said. “Are there safety measures in place? We have safety measures in place everywhere ever since Sandy Hook and then with the pandemic. We have partitions. We have cameras. We have security on every campus at ECISD, as I’m sure they do at many districts.”

“My question is, how did this happen? How?” she continued. “How can you lose a whole classroom of students in an instant? How? How can you bury 20 students? What district has the capacity to do that emotionally, financially, and with stability? How do you get out of your mourning, your broken heart to do that?”

To see more, view Monitor photojournalist Joel Martinez’s full photo gallery here:

Photo Gallery: Rio Grande Valley ‘cannot help but suffer together’ with Uvalde