Former Uvalde teacher Arnulfo Reyes says he lost some of his identity when he decided not to return to the classroom

Reyes had started a flower and gift shop before the shooting. Now, it’s what he’s doing full-time.

By Riley Patrick & Laura RiceMay 23, 2024 3:58 pm, , ,

Arnulfo Reyes had been a teacher for 17 years. But after a gunman entered his classroom on May 24, 2022, injuring him and killing many of his students and two of his fellow teachers, he decided to give up the job for good.

“It’s like part of me died that day as well,” Reyes said. “I had a hard time with the acceptance that I was not going to go back into the teaching field. Because that’s what I had worked for all these years was to be a teacher and to be good at it.”

Reyes worked at Robb Elementary for six years. He taught Pre-K there before moving to fourth grade.

“And it was rewarding because I got to see them five years old and, now, 10 years old,” Reyes said.

When asked about a typical day, he remembers smiling faces.

“Just to see their minds expanding. You know, learn more of whatever the subject is,” he said.

He said though they had drills for incidents like a mass shooting all the time, he never imagined it would happened at Robb Elementary.

“You know, we have a fence. We have the keys,” Reyes said. “We have what we need, you know – police officers – you have everything and, yeah. So you think that it could never happen here.”

» MORE: Voices from Uvalde

After the shooting, Reyes was hospitalized. He said he was disappointed with the district’s response to his situation.

“I mean, when I was there, like I would say, my third day, you know, my principal showed up, and the secretary showed up,” Reyes said. “But it hasn’t been the greatest. Not what you would expect – I expected more phone calls, more checkups, more, ‘What can we do for you?’ – and it’s really been the opposite.”

He said the counseling he’s done was not offered through the district but because of workman’s comp. And he said his surgeries have been “never ending.”

“I just got a surgery … to fix the plate that was broken,” Reyes said. “And now they’re trying to work on my hand. So it’s still not finished yet.”

In the meantime, he said it’s been helpful to stay busy with his shop – Arnie’s Nursery & Gifts.

A photo of the inside of Arnie's Nursery and Gifts shows colorful arrangements and a sign reading "home."

“I opened a year prior to the incident,” Reyes said. “And then I closed down for a whole year, a year and a half, after. And so then I just opened up again, like, maybe six months ago.”

He said he often makes arrangements for the students killed and takes them to the cemetery. But he also said the community has been divided about ongoing displays of grief.

“Some of the community members sometimes – stay away,” Reyes said. “I guess they don’t want to talk about it. You know, and I’m okay with that. If they don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, but I live it every day, so I can’t get away from it. … They might want to ignore it, say ‘move on,’ whatever. But it’s going to be part of our history forever. And it’s sad that it’s something like this. But we never, I will never, forget.”

He said he wished more people in his community would seek counseling.

“In the Hispanic community, it’s always tough to like, ‘suck it up and move on,’” Reyes said.

But he said he’s been thankful for his support system – namely, his family.

“My mother and my sister. My brother. Everybody, just my family, has been the greatest support system, and I have a few close friends that, you know, do check up on me and help me out. So I have a great support system right now,” Reyes said.

A team of students at Texas State University are working with Professor Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi to continue to tell the stories of Uvalde. Here are their reflections on the project.

A photo of Riley PatrickRiley Patrick
Age: 20
Major: Journalism
Hometown: Cypress, Texas
Graduation: August 2024

Speaking to the sole survivor from Classroom 111 at Robb Elementary will stick with me for the rest of my life. In the weeks leading up to the interview, I did endless amounts of research to prepare myself, but nothing could’ve prepared me for hearing the story of such a tragedy in person. The look in Arnulfo Reyes’s eyes and the pauses he took before speaking shared so much in themselves to how heartbroken he felt over losing 11 of his students. I’ve never taken so long to write a story before or second guessed my words so much because I was determined for the story to share his gracefully, but powerfully. I am so grateful to Reyes for taking the time to speak with us and share intimate details of the worst day of his life. I remember after we wrapped up the interview, he told us that he couldn’t decline the offer because it was students that would be writing these stories. His face lit up any time he talked about his time teaching and interacting with students. I owe so much thanks to the other student journalists I had next to me that day, as well as Professor Chiecchi, who spent ample amount of time preparing us for this day and instilling confidence in us.

A photo of Eraldo Chiecchi.Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi, MFA
Texas State University
Multimedia journalism professor
Uvalde reporting project coordinator
Hometown: El Paso, Texas

This is the second time our journalism students visited Uvalde, Texas, to report on this senseless tragedy – the worst days of the lives of so many people. Our students reported these difficult stories on the mass killing of 19 students and two teachers with grace, empathy and with the respect the victims deserved. Parents of the victims commented to me immediately after the interviews and elsewhere just how well prepared the students were to interview them – even more than some national media. As a result, family members were candid telling the stories. Students and I talked a great deal about vicarious trauma – a real thing among journalists and others who deal with tragedy. Students talked at length, especially on the drive back home. We visited Uvalde on two different days and conducted one interview in Austin. At the end of the project, students produced quality journalism – stories, video and audio pieces, and exceptional photography.

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