Memories of Uvalde |

Memories of Uvalde

Reporter Meg Soyars’ family lives in the Texas town where 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were gunned down on Tuesday — here, she reflects on the idyllic life she had there, and the unspeakable tragedy

Sunset in Uvalde, Texas, near where Sky-Hi News reporter Meg Soyars grew up.
Meg Soyars/Courtesy Photo

When I was 18 years old, the same age as the school shooter of Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, my parents purchased a cattle ranch in Uvalde. My father had worked in Uvalde since he was a young boy, helping my great uncle on his cattle operation. Originally from San Antonio, 85 miles west of Uvalde, Dad quickly fell in love with the rugged country.

Uvalde was a close-knit, rural community, much like Grand County. Ranchers grazed their cattle on green fields, and residents gathered along Main Street for town celebrations. Although my father raised me and my brother in Helotes an hour away, I think a part of his heart was always in Uvalde. My mother, father and brother often visited there when I was growing up. I learned how to raise livestock on the ranch, and I climbed on my uncle’s horses to ride them and explore the beautiful country. To me, Uvalde represented peace and wide-open fields.

My grandmother often accompanied us on our trips to Uvalde. It was one of her favorite places. Originally from London, she donned cowboy hats and boots when she traveled to Uvalde. When my father purchased the Uvalde ranch the same year I entered college, my grandmother moved into the ranch house. My father took care of her there, shuttling between our main house and Uvalde every week. On school breaks, I stayed in Uvalde, too. I loved the ranch, the horses, the cattle. The Nueces River flowed through our property, and my brother and I swam in it every chance we got. We loved the clear blue water and the fact that the river was “ours.”

I was always happiest by the river, sitting outside on the porch with my grandmother watching the sunsets, or going out to eat at the Town House, my grandmother’s favorite restaurant. Everyone in Uvalde was always friendly and welcoming. I often did my Christmas shopping in the gift stores that lined main street, because I could always find a good treasure. I felt safe there, and couldn’t for one moment imagine a person committing anything like the atrocity I heard of on the news on May 24.

When my grandmother passed in 2014, one of her last wishes was to be back in the town she loved. I’m glad she is resting in peace now, spared the remorse of hearing what everyone else has been hearing on the news. Although my grandmother no longer lives in Uvalde, my parents and brother stay at the ranch almost every day, tending to the livestock. During the COVID-19 lockdown, my family hunkered down at ranch the entire time, since for them, it was the safest place to be.

Like so many others, I am in shock that 19 children and two teachers could die senselessly in a town where community members are close to each other and take care of each other. The children who were attacked were in second to fourth grade. This massacre reveals that mass shootings can happen anywhere, at any time. Yet again, innocent children have lost their lives in an institution that for them represented education, friendship and safety. The students at Robb Elementary were only two days away from their summer break, having celebrated an awards ceremony earlier that morning. Uvalde families waited at home for the school day to be over so they could see their children again, just as millions of parents do every day across the U.S.

As of May 25, 24 children have died in 27 school shootings this year. Since Columbine High School’s shooting in 1999, more than 311,000 children have survived a school shooting, and will live with the PTSD from their experiences. Uvalde’s shooting marked the deadliest in the Texas’s history, and the second-deadliest after the Sandy Hook Massacre, which took place nearly a decade ago. This mass shooting also occurred only 10 days after the horrific mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. According to The Gun Violence Archive, there have been 212 mass shootings this year.

When shootings happen, there is often this mantra in my head: “That happened to that town/city/school, but it won’t happen here.”

I was in elementary school when the Columbine massacre occurred. Like most people of my generation, I grew up with the threat of a school shooting in the back of my mind, but for me was a very distant threat. Most people I knew owned firearms for hunting and operated them safely. I lived in a rural community that I perceived as safe, and I do believe things were safer when I was a student than they are now. Now, the words “mass shooting” have become a soundbite in the news; until that shooting hits close to home, many are desensitized and numb to that soundbite. For me, this shooting is closest to home. For myself and my family, the town has represented community, peace and beauty. A part of my heart is in Uvalde, and it will always be there, no matter how far I travel from it.

As they watch media and law enforcement take over the streets of Uvalde, both my parents have words to share to Sky-Hi News about what Uvalde means to them, despite the tragedy.

From my father: “It’s a great place to live. Everyone knows everyone, and there are very friendly, easy-going, self-sufficient people here. People will take time to stop in the middle of the street and talk to you. Lots of veterans live here, and it’s a primarily Hispanic community. There’s a long ranching history, with vegetable farming, sheep and goat raising, and a vibrant cattle trade. It’s a very family-orientated community, with a strong interest in the youngest children. Parents are really school-involved, more than other places. For them, their kids are their life. School graduation is a huge celebration.”

From my mother: “Uvalde has that typical small-town feel and in horrific times like these, everyone will know someone that has been affected by this tragedy. It’s always been a town where you can walk around anytime of the day or night and feel safe. Anytime you go into a store or a restaurant, you always see someone you know. And not only that, it’s always a friendly encounter. People will ask how your day is going and how your life is going, and a hug or handshake will follow the encounter. It was always especially awesome when everybody would come together for big events, like a school graduation, a concert or a rodeo. Everybody just had a good time at these events, being with their neighbors, family and friends. One of the events I’ve enjoyed the most is the July 4 fireworks show. It’s always a really good show of fireworks, with lots of people enjoying the summer night sky, visiting, eating popcorn, the kids playing around with sizzlers.”

Like my parents, I have always felt a sense of belonging in Uvalde. In my mother’s words, it is the town’s close-knit families and comradeship that will eventually heal Uvalde. I am proud that the Soyars family can call themselves “Uvaldians.”

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