AUSTIN, Texas — Living in fear for your life at your school, afraid that gun violence could be just around the corner, is a uniquely American experience, the sister of a Robb Elementary murder victim told the audience at a SXSW keynote session on gun violence.
Jazmin Casarez is the older sister of Robb Elementary School victim Jackie Casarez, one of 17 schoolchildren shot and killed at Uvalde last year, along with two teachers. She has been an active participant in promoting gun legislation at the Capitol this session and took part in at least two panels on gun violence at SXSW.
“I’ve been doing lockdown drills for as long as I remember,” Casarez said during a Saturday morning session. “It’s such a uniquely American experience, to fear for your life in school.”
Saturday’s session, “The Kids are (not) Alright: Gun Violence Terrorizing the Youth of America,” was moderated by Kim A Snyder, a filmmaker who has documented the aftermath of mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. She has added Uvalde to that list after the Robb Elementary mass shooting in 2022.
Two of Snyder’s documentaries, “Newtown” and “Us Kids,” debuted at the SXSW Film Festival. Clips of both documentaries, plus video from Uvalde, were interspersed throughout Saturday’s discussion. Mass shootings make up a fraction of the gun violence in this country, but the attention they get has ripple effects in terms of mental health for all kids, Snyder said.
“That’s sort of the subject that I want to dig into today, is youth and trauma,” Snyder said. “There was a recent study of the American Psychology Association that 75% of our youth report significant anxiety and trauma due to the fear of shootings.”
Some of Snyder’s documentary work after “Us Kids” followed Parkland shooting survivor Samantha Fuentes, who is now 23. Fuentes, who testified during the sentencing phase of the Parkland shooter, said she doesn’t describe her survival of the shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas as “lucky.”
“I was a senior in high school when I was shot with an AR-15, and I watched two of my classmates and friends die right in front me,” Fuentes said. “Now, I’m a 23-year-old woman who considers myself to be very high functioning, but still, to this day, I fear for my life.”
Gun violence is incredible, so devastating and so selfish, Fuentes said. The only way she has been able to work through the grief and trauma is to connect with other shooting survivors and gun advocates.
“For a lot of activists, we don’t choose this for ourselves,” Fuentes said. “This isn’t just a hobby for me. It’s a lifestyle that will continue to be mine for the rest of my life. I can’t detach myself from this, ever.”
Fuentes and fellow survivor David Hogg traveled to Uvalde after the Robb mass shooting, telling the Uvalde families they would never be alone.
“We are here on behalf of a community of survivors that understand the unbearable grief that lingers in the aftermath of a tremendous tragedy,” Fuentes told the Uvalde community in video filmed by Snyder. “We are here because the days, weeks, months and years ahead of you are going to be hard, just like it was hard for us. But we want you to know that you must keep going. You must persist because we need you. Your community needs you, I need you, your loved ones need you. You’re Uvalde Strong.”
In short, Cazares, Hogg and Fuentes are vocal because gun violence is something no child needs to face.
“It’s such a terrible thing that we go to school and have to tell our parents we love them, just because we might not make it home,” Cazares said. “It’s just so disappointing. It’s so sad. That’s why we’re here. We don’t want this to happen anymore.”
Florida Congressman Maxwell Frost was just elected to his first term in Congress at the age of 26. A decade ago, he was so moved by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook that he traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Newtown Action Alliance. He also was active in March for Our Lives.
“Mass shootings account for 1% of gun violence,” Frost said. “I don’t say that to diminish mass shootings. I say that so everyone realizes how big this problem is, to think about how big a deal and a horrible traumatic experience that mass shootings are.”
Proposals such as universal background checks appear to have bipartisan support until they get to Congress, Frost said. And because Congress has a difficult time passing simple gun control, members and communities need to get in tune with preventing gun violence.
“Because violence starts in our communities, it’s going to end in our communities,” Frost said. “That’s why we need to fund community centers and people in our community who understand that violence intervention has to be part of the apparatus.”