One week after the May 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, I attended a vigil for the victims. I felt it was important to arrive early to ask permission from people attending the event who I might photograph. Three families of victims gave consent, including relatives, seen here, of Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio.
Because I had talked to them before the event, I felt more comfortable being close to them and documenting their grief. As dusk fell, photos of victims were projected on a wall while families huddled together, holding candles that struggled to stay lit in the hot summer wind. Moments later, people lined up to release balloons, and friends and family of victims spoke about their loved ones to the crowd gathered in the courtyard.
As a photojournalist in Texas for the past 18 years, I’ve photographed the aftermath of five mass shootings, including the one at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where 26 were killed, including several children, in a tiny, wooden church near San Antonio.
The number of mass shootings in America averages more than one per day. As these tragedies mount, and we cover more families like Lexi’s who are mourning in their wake, it’s imperative that we center their grief in our work without adding to it. We must work with compassion and empathy, and use trauma-informed reporting, while providing the public with what they need to know.
The mother of 10-year-old victim Annabell Rodriguez was also at the vigil. When I asked for her permission, she said yes but not when she was “breaking down.” She told me every time she started to cry, the cameras went up. I gave her my word, and I kept it. The balance of knowing who wants to share their story and who doesn’t in the midst of traumatic events is difficult, but I am certain we must make every effort to not further traumatize those most affected.