Caitlyne Gonzales is always using her voice. Whether it’s teaching her younger sister how to play ball, singing karaoke with her family, or publicly criticizing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for his response to the school shooting she survived, Caitlyne doesn’t hold back.
On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old former student entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. With an AR-15, he killed two teachers and 19 fourth graders, including Jacklyn ‘Jackie’ Cazares, Caitlyne’s best friend. This would be the deadliest school shooting in Texas history to date.
“I shouldn’t have to be here speaking — I’m only 10 years old — but I am because my friends have no voice no more,” Caitlyne said at a rally outside the Texas Capitol on February 28 of this year.
In the first year since the tragedy, Caitlyne has been traveling around Texas and across the country to call for gun reform on behalf of Jackie and other murdered friends. Meanwhile, her parents have been swimming through the scant mental health resources offered in Uvalde to help their daughter surface from the post traumatic stress disorder she’s developed.
Often fluctuating between happy and carefree to anxious and withdrawn, they say she hasn’t been the same since Jackie’s death.
“Since May 24 everything about our lives has changed,” her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, says “She went from being pretty independent to one that now has to share the bed with me because she’s so afraid of the darkness.”
But speaking out and calling for action is one of the ways she’s been able to find light. Now, Caitlyne is learning the ropes to activism from veteran social justice leaders like Lalo Castillo. He took part in school walkouts during the Chicano movement of the 1970s at Robb Elementary School, the same school where Caitlyne would lose several of her friends.
Amid the grief and in an attempt to heal, Caitlyne often returns to the cemetery to connect with her best friends. During one visit, flashes of orange and yellow sprout from the tip of the sparkler she holds onto as she walks around Jackie’s grave. This place, she says, is where she feels most at ease.
In this episode, a collaboration with Futuro Investigates, Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa follows this young survivor and her family in their journey to healing.
For more on this investigation, visit futuroinvestigates.org.
Featured photo courtesy of James Peterson/ FRONTLINE/Futuro Investigates.