Read: A world where school shootings feel inevitable
But where some activists in Parkland embraced the media attention and even seized on it to advocate for gun reform, Santa Fe wanted the journalists and camera crews gone. “How are they gonna help us heal? No one here wants that attention,” Tabor said when we spoke by phone earlier this month. The nation was prepared to amend its ever-expanding list of mass-shooting sites—Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland—but many in Santa Fe didn’t want to be known for that, and didn’t want the media attention. After the shock wore off, the reporters mostly stayed away, even as they continued to focus on Parkland.
The town preferred to take care of itself. People turned to prayer and reflection to think seriously about how to protect their community from another tragedy. “It’s not a group to cry out, like, ‘Oh, why me, someone come,’” Shelby Webb, an education reporter at the Houston Chronicle who has covered the Santa Fe shooting and its aftermath throughout the past year, told me. “It’s, ‘Alright, this is the card we’ve been dealt … Let’s take care of our own and try to figure this out on our own.’”
Many people I spoke with said the town’s attitude after the shooting reminded them of how people felt after Hurricane Harvey, the August 2017 storm that devastated Galveston County, and Hurricane Ike, which did much the same in 2008. These storms had hardened the residents of Santa Fe and nearby towns. For those whose homes had been destroyed by Ike, FEMA administrators had come down and promised them money to help rebuild. Some people are waiting on those checks even now, 11 years later. Many more continue to struggle with the effects of Harvey. “You had people still with their houses flooded dealing with the shooting,” Tabor said. A Houston Chronicle investigation found that nearly 20 percent of students in the Santa Fe Independent School District had been severely affected by Harvey, meaning they either had to relocate after the storm or lacked basic resources for a significant period of time afterward.
Following the shooting, as with the storms, many residents felt that they only had one another to count on, that to expect help from afar was a pointless exercise. “I hate to relate the two together, but it’s kind of the same, because Texas steps up and does what it has to do,” Joe Giusti, a Galveston County commissioner who lives in Santa Fe, told me. “Feds said, ‘Ah, y’all can take care of it, go ahead,’” Giusti said, describing what happened after Harvey. “A lot of people, they pulled up their boots, they went to work … neighbors were helping neighbors with it. And so they didn’t wait around for the federal response.” The same attitude, he said, characterized the town in the wake of the shooting.
Moreover, Santa Fe was, in contrast with Parkland, decidedly not going to be a site of outspoken gun-regulation advocacy. Many people thought the shooting warranted, at most, a community-wide accounting of what went wrong and how Santa Fe might do better in the future. Solutions included upgrades to the school’s security and a public focus on students’ mental health. Students now pass through metal detectors to enter the high school. Giusti, who has worked in law enforcement for 41 years, told me about new equipment that local officers must carry to be prepared for another mass-casualty event. Tabor said people are paying a lot more attention now to kids suffering from depression and anxiety. “We’re pushing really big about suicide-prevention awareness and mental-health aspects,” he explained.