HARLINGEN — Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland. And now…Uvalde.

School shootings across the country have repeatedly spawned demands for action and change, including more gun control, background checks, raising the age to purchase a gun, arming teachers and expensive security systems.

Several years ago, not long after Sandy Hook, the Harlingen school district installed state-of-the-art security systems at all campuses. That new security included new fencing, surveillance, and an electronic locking system.

With that locking system, visitors must appear before a camera outside locked gates, identify themselves and their purposes, and then wait to hear a click signaling the door has been unlocked from inside the school.

More recently, the district hired Danny Castillo as director of emergency management for school safety. He has further enhanced the district’s security measures and conducts regular reviews of those measures.

However, when something so horrific like the slaughter of 19 kids and two teachers occurs right next door, even the safest of places can feel exposed. No longer are the hideous attacks on school kids far away in other parts of the country. Now it’s happened very close to home, in a culture very much like our own.

Everyone is in pain — and wondering if the monstrosity will strike again, and where.


As news of the shootings spread into Harlingen classrooms, students experienced shock, disbelief, fear, and a miasma of indefinable emotions.

“When I heard about this incident, I was very upset and sad because me and my family went over to Uvalde for trips and stuff,” said Nadia Vento, 13, an eighth grader at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences.

“This kind of really just hit home because we are so close to that area and it was really scary,” she said.

Worst of all, she and her friends were hearing about it as it was happening and listening to the death toll rise.

“My friends were talking about it at school before I got home and they were saying…because it was still going on when we were at school,” she said. “It was like so many kids passed away, and then when I got home it was more. It was more than my friends told me and it just kept growing until it got to the point where that was all the children that had been killed. I was just so shocked and surprised and scared.”

It was a very different feeling from previous newscasts about such monstrosities.

“I didn’t know how to feel because usually I hear about these things a lot but they’re not as close,” she said. “They’re somewhere else, somewhere distant. And so now this is a couple of hours away, this could’ve easily been our school district, our school, my school or my sibling’s school. So I was feeling a lot of strong emotions.”

K’liyah Gill, 9, was feeling very sad a week after the shootings.

“I feel like their pain and their families are very sad,” said K’liyah, now a fourth grader at Stuart Elementary School.

“I feel like their pain and I wish that wouldn’t happen at all,” she said. “I wish everybody was OK and that everything was normal.”

Sadly, things are far from normal. K’liyah said that in spite of everything she still feels safe in school.

But many others don’t.


Nadia does not feel safe in school anymore.

Nor does 12-year-old Eva Arocena or 15-year-old Homer Salinas or 16-year-old Yarely Aguilar or …

“With the procedure that we have right now at the school district, I do not feel safe,” Nadia said.

“Right now the procedure for my school and for my brother’s elementary school is to lock the doors and hide where there are no windows where someone can see into. From what I’ve known, ever since I’ve been in elementary school, that’s always been the procedure: hide, turn off the lights and lock the doors.”

Sounds like a decent plan, right?

Just one problem.

“That’s the same procedure that the school in Uvalde followed and look what happened?” she said.

Eva, a seventh grader at Harlingen CISD STEM2 Preparatory Academy, agreed things need to change.

“I think the procedures they have now are kind of not enough,” she said. “If they have a safe window to exit that’s not very high and kind of like on the ground that would be better. In case the shooter walks in the door the teacher should be ready with something like a fire extinguisher, like spray it to blind him or hit him over the head or something.”

Homer would like to see teachers and administrators empowered to take more decisive action.

“I would think it would be smart if one teacher in the school could have a gun to carry to protect the school,” said the sophomore at UTRGV Harlingen Collegiate High School.


“I think it’s sad how this world has come to guns, and I think it needs to be stopped,” Homer said. “I find it sad that that’s what people are trying to do. Kids are just going to school and getting hurt for no reason.”

The 18-year-old Uvalde shooter was only two years older than Yarely Aguilar and that has her worried about going to school at Harlingen High School.

“I don’t feel safe because there are other teenagers that are like 18-year-olds, older adults, crazy people, that have guns and they’re letting them have guns,” said Yarely, 16. “When they turn 18 they can get a gun. You never know if they’re like getting bullied or something, and then they just come and shoot little kids for no reason.”

She also gave a thumbs down to current procedures.

“I want to have more than just run and hide,” she said. “Maybe just something like a room or something to keep us safe.”

She’d like to be prepared to throw things at the shooter but only if he stops to reload. An automatic weapon obviously wouldn’t provide much opportunity for that.

Nadia said running and hiding just isn’t enough anymore. Yes, it’s a last resort, but once the intruder is in the classroom, she feels a more active approach is necessary.

“When I know that I’m in danger, I would love to do something about it, not just wait, because that’s basically what the school district is asking us to do. Just wait and see what happens.”

She said these days intruders have a great deal more information available to them which they can use to get through locked doors and into classrooms.

“With people changing, I think our procedures should change as well,” she said.

Her father James Vento agreed.

“I strongly believe that there should be an alternative way of facing that situation, whether it be ways to barricade the door or using items in the classroom to defend themselves,” he said. “Hiding and waiting is not the best way to face that type of threat, I believe.”