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In a heart-wrenching plenary Monday, Roy A. Guerrero, M.D., FAAP, recalled his experience on May 24, when 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
He played an audio clip never released to the public, with the permission of the mother of one of the victims, that captured the horror: young students screaming for help as they were pulled out of a room across from the two rooms where children were murdered.
Dr. Guerrero, who grew up in Uvalde and is the town’s only pediatrician, turned tragedy into advocacy, testifying in Washington to pass gun control laws. Afterwards, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed, which he called a baby step in the right direction.
During his plenary address “Uvalde Pediatrician Gives Voice To School Shooting Victims,” he urged pediatricians to use their voices to help keep children safe and convince parents to vote for candidates who support the well-being of children.
“I want to clarify with this title that the school shooting victims weren’t just the children that passed away on May 24,” he said. “The victims (also) are our little community — the teachers, the students that survived, the aunts and uncles — everyone either involved directly or indirectly on this horrible day.”
Dr. Guerrero described Uvalde before, during and after the shooting.
He shared photos of the town of 15,000, his clinic and patients “to show how intertwined we all are.”
He told how while eating lunch that day he received a text about a mass shooting. Dr. Guerrero rushed to the hospital, which was surrounded by FBI agents, Border Patrol and police. A wall of parents screamed outside for their children. He lost multiple patients that day.
He described “the terror that still lives today in our community.” Kids are terrified to go to school, and parents are afraid to drop them off. The 10-foot black fence that surrounds the school is a constant reminder of what happened.
It took this tragedy, he said, to realize how pediatricians are on the front line of what impacts parents and their children.
“Now, the AAP’s motto is dedicated to the health of all children, right? This shooter, a few months before, was a child.… And I’m not trying to defend or excuse anything that the shooter did that day. But there was a systematic failure in our community, in our schools, and as medical professionals (we) possibly could have prevented this disaster. Why didn’t anyone report that this kiddo was slashing his face at school … that he was putting cats in trash bags and beating them with baseball bats?
“Again, we’re on the forefront, and it’s our job … to ask these questions, as uncomfortable as they may be.”
He also implored pediatricians to use their voices to push for gun safety.
“I’m here to ask you join us in this fight and honor the memory of these fallen angels. I want to be the last pediatrician ever invited to give such a speech.”