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Texas community turns to prayer for some type of peace after school shooting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go directly to the voices of people affected by yesterday's elementary school mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Here's Texas Public Radio's Brian Kirkpatrick.

BRIAN KIRKPATRICK, BYLINE: A prayer vigil was underway at the Getty Street Church of Christ within hours of the shooting. The church is very close to Robb Elementary, where many of the 600 students, grades two through four, had just returned from recess. In just a couple of days, they were set to start summer vacation. Erika Escamilla has several nieces and nephews who attend the school. They all survived. She was among those at the church prayer vigil. Escamilla described the horror that unfolded in the school as teachers worked quickly to put classes in lockdown, locking doors, turning off lights and telling children to get down.

ERIKA ESCAMILLA: My niece was crying to me, and she was saying that she heard the guy cussing, and she heard, like, loud yelling, and she heard him cussing, and then she heard, like, a lot of loud bangs, the gunshots.

KIRKPATRICK: Escamilla explained what her niece did after the shooting started in her locked-down classroom.

ESCAMILLA: She just put her hands over her ears and got down into a ball, and she said, Tia, it felt like I was having a heart attack. I was so scared, I didn't know what to do.

KIRKPATRICK: Escamilla says the experience is something a young child should never be put through.

ESCAMILLA: I just want to say sorry to the children 'cause they're innocent, you know? They don't know. They don't know what's really going on in the world like we do.

KIRKPATRICK: The church's outreach minister, John Juhasz, says congregants were praying for the families of the victims, the medical teams working on the wounded and for the shooter himself, who the minister believes could have been helped with his troubles.

JOHN JUHASZ: I don't believe that somebody is just born evil. I believe that, you know, that's just the way that they turn because they get embittered to the world.

KIRKPATRICK: The outreach minister says Uvalde residents will need to love one another and set aside their differences to heal from the shooting in the days and months ahead. An early end to the school year was declared by school superintendent Hal Harrell because of the shooting. All school activities are canceled. Changes may also be coming for graduation ceremonies that were set for the 27.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAL HARRELL: My heart was broken today. We're a small community, and we will need your prayers to get us through this.

KIRKPATRICK: I'm Brian Kirkpatrick in Uvalde. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.