Some have prepared food, while others have brought toys for the children.
Different individuals and organizations have made different efforts to help the families of victims of the shooting in Wolverhampton, Texas. From cooking to bringing in Golden Retriever.
Carlos Hernandez loves to cook, especially for those who love it. But for the first time in his life he could not mount the grill for the past few days.
“There’s no way I could open my kitchen with a broken heart and have fun doing it,” he wrote on Facebook.
A few hours ago, a gunman entered Rob Elementary School, a mile from his restaurant, and brutally murdered 19 children and two teachers in an incomprehensible act.
It shook Hernandez and paralyzed him for a while.
But two days later, with determination and despair, she went to work wearing an armor. He decided that Woldeaux needed food now more than ever.
Within hours, Hernandez was choking on more than 60 family-sized fried fish, creamy macaroni and cheese and other acclaimed Texas food for mourning community members.
Between full plates, Hernandez took the time to hug, cry and listen to the neighbor. Many, violently dismembered, cried, ate, and then cried again.
To encourage passers-by, he wrote messages of faith and solidarity on the windows of his restaurant.
“This is a very difficult situation and I try to show that children have us as their backbone and support system,” he told CNN. “We are always there whether an incident happens or not.”
Hernandez was one of many who rallied under the banner of “Walde Strong” to liberate another American community torn apart by gun violence. Last week, hundreds of people lined up in the city center from near and far to offer volunteer services and other solidarity activities.
“What we do is show families that we care,” Hernandez said, adding that he does not know if the community will ever fully recover. For now, he and others are determined to help Wolde grieve and cope.
“We will stay as long as they need us”
For seven years, Bonnie Fear traveled with Lutheran Church charities across the United States to provide emotional support dogs for survivors of the tragedy.
This week, the Crisis Response Coordinator and his coaches are in Wolverhampton with eight Golden Retriever: Abner, Guppy, Deora, Elijah, Gabriel, Joy, Miriam and Triton.
Together, they sit in City Square and invite adults and children to browse and play. In fact, dogs wear blue underwear that says “please pet me”.
“A lot of times after that, people don’t want to talk to a man,” Fear explained to CNN.
“After traumatic events, people do not want to interact with others, sometimes they just want something to start with, talk indefinitely, it’s very simple,” he added.
“They show unconditional love,” he pointed out to the dogs.
There are signs of pain all over the city. A woman kneels before the cross and weeps, trembling so badly that she cannot breathe. On the pedestal behind her, a family of three sits together and reads a prayer.
The air is heavy with sadness, and children feel it until they see the dogs. Suddenly their faces shine with smiles.
A little girl sits on the grass and hugs Princess Miriam with ears that want to hug. As he walks away, tears stream down his face. But when Miriam walks in for a kiss, she laughs. He sees his mother struggling with tears.
“That’s why we’re here, helping people express their feelings,” Fear said.
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Earlier on Saturday, Fear and his crew attended a private event where family members directly affected by the shooting mourned.
“You could say that many children are not ready to talk yet. They were walking towards a dog with so much sadness and confusion,” he said. “But when they were done with that dog, they hugged each other and laughed, even talking to the dog.”
Parents were emotional when they saw their children interacting with animals, Fear said. For the first time in days, her children smiled again.
At one point, laughter came from the area, and officials were worried and came to check what was going on, he said.
“This is our team with our dogs and kids,” Fear said. “I would not say they were happy, but they were enjoying the moment of forgetting horror.”
The grief and healing process will take a long time, Fear said. For many it has not even begun.
“We’ll be back. A crisis like this will not heal in four or five days. We’ll bring more dogs and stay as long as necessary.”
“It makes you think about your own children”
According to Patrick Johnson, traveling to Wolverhampton is an act of service and survival. When he heard of the massacre, he was overwhelmed with grief at not being able to cross his day.
“I immediately broke down and cried,” Johnson, 58, told CNN. “I do not belong in this community, but it hurts me. It makes you think of your own children. It makes you realize that you may have hurt your children.”
Johnson tied up his car and drove more than seven hours from Harletton, Texas to Wolverhampton. His first stop in town was Walmart, where he filled his trunk with baby toys before heading to Town Square.
For three days, Johnson sat in the Texas sun and showed a table full of stuffed animals, small trucks, frisbees and football balls. Passing children are invited to choose any toy they like, a simple gift from a stranger with a big heart. Each time the table was empty he would run to Walmart to re-stock.
“When you lose something, especially as a child, you need something else to catch,” he said. “It makes the kids happy, so it makes me happy.”
“It’s a roller coaster of emotions. I was giving away toys, and a woman wanted a big white puppy that I had, and her face was bright. I said I would let her compete with the toy and win. She was so happy and that’s why I came here, ”he added.
This is not the first time Johnson has supported the Texas community, which is reeling from gun violence. He visited Sutherland Springs in 2017 and Santa Fe in 2018 where he provided care and assistance after mass shootings.
The continuing tragedies make Johnson emotional, but he says Wolde is where he is now.
“Especially in Texas, we can’t wait for the government to do things, we’re helping our own people,” he said before encouraging others to join the effort.
“There are so many ways to be a blessing to people,” he stressed.
Shelter for grieving families
Prior to filming, the El Progresso Memorial Library was simply a place to read and borrow books. But it has been transformed into a place of healing.
“We want our building to be a safe place, a quiet, peaceful, cool haven,” library director Mendel Morgan told CNN.
The day after the tragedy, the library welcomed members of the community with books and other sources on grief and sorrow, as well as hope, inspiration and guidance.
It also hosted the “Story Time with Miss Martha” show, where librarian Martha Carrey read, sang, and laughed with local children.
Morgan explains that El Progresso must play an active role in Voldemort’s healing process for children and adults. Over the coming days and weeks, the library will provide activities for psychologists, massage therapists, pianists, magicians and artists to share their talents with the community.
“It’s a small rural town with strong Hispanic elements. Family is important in this culture, which is why this horrific act has affected so many people in Wolde and beyond,” he said.
To ensure support continues, his team established the Robs Little Angels Memorial Book Fund. The donations, which have already begun to come in from across the United States, will be used to purchase books, games, puzzles and financial plans that will help the family healing process, Morgan said.
“We are still in shock,” he said. “First, we need time to allow all of us to recover from the trauma, to face the reality of the consequences, and to find positive ways to move forward.”
“It’s a strong community where we care about each other,” Morgan added. “If there are not many here, they cling to their faith by believing in God. Good is stronger than evil, and light is stronger than darkness.”
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