The only pediatrician serving Uvalde, Texas, told “Today” what it was like treating those injured in the Robb Elementary School shooting and sharing their horrific survivor stories.
Dr Roy Guerrero, who was born and raised in Uvalde and attended Robb Primary School as a child, was having lunch with his staff on Tuesday when he started receiving frantic texts.
“I called the hospital, Uvalde Memorial, to ask if they needed me and they said, ‘Yes, come here right away,'” said Guerrero, a board-certified pediatric specialist who practices in Uvalde. and in San Antonio.
Guerrero ran to the hospital.
“It was a complete madhouse – what you see in disaster movies,” he added. “Doctors and nurses in every room; people are running around like crazy; the children in the hallway were bleeding and screaming; surgeons working on children.
“The most awful part, I guess, was just seeing parents I knew screaming outside, asking me to look for their kids. You never really get that out of your head.
Guerrero personally treated eight children that day, four of whom are his regular patients.
He lost five of his patients in the shooting.
“I’m afraid he’s coming to get me”
As Guerrero made his rounds in the hospital the day of the shooting, tending to the injured and identifying the victims, he heard a familiar voice shout at him.
“I heard, ‘Hey, Dr. G!’ he said. Guerrero turned around to find an 11-year-old girl he had nursed since she was a newborn. He asked that TODAY not publish his name for privacy reasons.
The girl was in the fourth grade class where 19 of her classmates and two of her teachers were shot. She had bullet fragments in her shoulder.
She told her mother and the doctor what had happened in the classroom that day.
“She said she saw people being shot and falling dead. Her best friend was next to her, so she caught some of his blood coming out of her, smeared it all over her. herself and played dead on the floor,” he said. “While she was doing this, her teacher… who was shot and was vomiting blood, told her “I don’t want to die, call 911” and threw the phone at him. I guess the guy saw the phone and pulled the phone but didn’t see her move. So she continued to play dead.
Guerrero saw the 11-year-old the next day for a follow-up appointment.
“She was literally shaking,” he explained. “She already has PTSD, and we just got through it.”
The child was not the only survivor Guerrero treated for showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the shooting, he said.
“The next day at the clinic, all I heard was, ‘I’m afraid he’s coming to get me. I’m afraid he’s coming to pick me up at my house. The children told me that. I heard that all day,” he explained. “I’m telling you this is going to be a mental health crisis for our community.”
Guerrero fears that the surviving children will live in fear for the rest of their lives. It’s a fear, he imagines, that could even be passed on to their own children if something doesn’t change.
“I don’t want them to have this doubt in their mind, all the time, that the world is the same or worse, and there’s nothing here to protect their children,” he explained. . “It’s my biggest fear.”
Texas ranks last in the nation for access to mental health services. In April, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott cut $211 million in funding for mental health programs.
“I told them I would be there until it was over”
Guerrero said the severity of survivors’ injuries varied. There were minor cuts and bruises on the children who climbed out of the shattered windows to safety. Others were injured by shrapnel, including a little girl who had bullet fragments lodged in her shoulder.
“The kids were hysterical at first,” he said. “But when they saw a familiar face – because I’ve known them for so long – I was able to calm them down. I told them I’d be there until it was over and I was going to call their mum. .
Guerrero says those moments were as much a relief for him as they were for the injured children.
“It was a blessing to see a familiar face that wasn’t well, but was alive,” he explained. “And was going to stay alive. Because in the back of your mind, you knew there were many who weren’t.
The doctor treats around 3,000 patients in the Uvalde area and he says he feels protective of each one of them.
“As soon as I start taking care of a child, it’s my child,” he added. “What people don’t realize is that I have 3,000 babies – and that day I lost a few.”
Waiting for the children who would never arrive
As the hours passed, it became apparent that some of the parents on the outside were not going to find their children alive.
Guerrero was assigned to be at the front of the reception area to immediately assist other patients the hospital was expecting.
“We were supposed to bring in 14 more kids and they wanted me to sort them out.”
The 14 children never arrived.
“When you know, you know – I just knew,” he said. “I tried to be positive and optimistic. But we knew what that meant.
Guerrero still had parents yelling at him, asking if their children were inside the hospital.
“So I asked the hospital to show me the bodies,” he added. “I had to make sure that wasn’t who they were talking about.”
The dead children Guerrero saw weren’t the parents’ children in the hospital waiting room, but what he saw will never leave his mind.
“It was awful,” he explained. “It was a high-powered rifle wound. Almost decapitation, at this level. Open wounds in the chest. These are war wounds. It’s like things explode once the bullets hit the bodies.
It wasn’t until two days later that the trauma of the day caught up with him.
“I lost it for a little while,” he said. “And that’s OK, but I told myself to pull myself together. I have to take care of the rest of these children. I can’t get lost.
Preparing to say goodbye, supporting survivors
As difficult as the day of filming and the hours that followed, Guerrero says there’s even more heartbreak to come.
“The worst will be next week when we have more wakes and funerals,” he said. “It still seems surreal, and it will be until we have the funeral next week and the week after.”
The first of many funerals will begin on Tuesday.
And as Guerrero prepares to mourn the children he’s lost and the devastation that has occurred in his hometown, he’s ready to do whatever it takes to show up for his patients.
“There is anger in everyone,” he said. “Something is different this time. We seem to care about shooting for two weeks and then sweeping it under the rug. Not this time. The community has enough momentum and energy behind it that I think something is going to happen this time.