Shelby Aguilera was expecting another long, slow, normal day when her aunt dropped her off at Santa Fe High School the morning of May 18.

Two weeks earlier, doctors had removed a tumor from Aguilera’s leg and she was still hobbling around on crutches.

“I remember distinctly the fire alarms going off and asking my substitute teacher if I could just stay inside because we thought it was just another fire drill,” Aguilera, 17, said. “But then we saw four staff members running and yelling for us to run ... run to the road. Everything around me froze.”

That Friday morning would become anything but slow and normal when a gunman opened fire, killing 10 and wounding 13 in the most deadly instance of school violence in Texas history.

After hearing four loud bangs, which were gunshots, Aguilera fled as best she could on crutches across the campus toward the highway, she said.

She and other students hid behind an auto shop building frantically looking around, trying to find their peers, she said.

“There were others on their phones with their parents,” Aguilera said. “People were crying, some were hugging; we were all just checking on each other.”

At 12:44 p.m. May 29, Aguilera returned to Santa Fe High School for the first time after the shooting to retrieve belongings she’d had to leave behind as she fled the shooting. She later posted thoughts about that return on social media.

“Today as I walked through the doors of my school, we got stopped to get searched,” she wrote on Facebook.

“Just being back in that school hurt, but I went back to pay my respects for my fallen teachers and classmates and to see all my friends again. The pain I have I can’t really explain it ...”

Aguilera said she plans to return to Santa Fe High School next year and join the Class of 2019, just as she had expected to do before the shooting. It’s unclear how many students who experienced the fear of May 18 will also return. Some parents of Santa Fe students are at least thinking about transferring their children to other districts or pulling them out of public school altogether.

Ruby Lopez, Aguilera’s mother, said she’s 100 percent behind her daughter’s decision to return to the school next year, however.

“Shelby wants to return as a senior and finish the journey she started there,” Lopez said. “As much as I’m scared and worried of her going back there, I back her up with her decision.”

Aguilera didn’t personally know any of the victims, but she remembers seeing them around the school, she said.

Along with getting a tattoo to never forget those who were tragically killed on that day, Aguilera also is seeking counseling to help her cope with the tragedy.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Aguilera said. “There are days that are good and days where I don’t want to do anything, so I just try to keep myself busy. Spending time with my family helps. I just try and keep going.”

Aguilera and her mother both said they would like to see more protection in school settings and better security.

“I think the school district should have more safety and intruder drills, and add more cameras to watch the doors,” Lopez said. “We as parents all need to come together to make sure changes are made and make it safer for our children.”

And, although Aguilera says she’s not afraid to go back to school, she’ll never forget what happened down that hallway at Santa Fe High School, she said.

“I want to go back so I can be with my friends again,” she said. “I love everyone at my school, even if I knew them or not. We all just need to be there for each other and keep all of the victims’ names alive and continue for them.”

Angela Wilson: 409-683-5239; angela.wilson@galvnews.com

Locations

Community News Editor

(2) comments

Carlos Ponce

A SFHS parent told me he told his daughter that following the May 18th shootings her school will be among the safest in the nation. Along with the security measures the school will implement come August there will be staff members who share the same experience and are haunted by the same memories, griefs and fears. There will not be a sense of normalcy for some time but everyone will work together throughout the upcoming school year. They will be Santa Fe Strong.

Stephen Murphy

My wife and I live in and work in Santa Fe, TX. I'm employed at Santa Fe ISD. My job requires that I come in early and make rounds to all the school district kitchens. I was in a school district vehicle and I was on my way to the high school that morning, like I am every morning school is in session.

Normally, I would have arrived at the high school kitchen delivery entrance 150' across from the back entrance to the hallway where the art rooms are located around 7:30 AM, approximately the time the shootings started. On my way to the school, I remembered the kitchen manager at one of the elementary schools had asked me a couple of days earlier to bring her some supplies for her dishwasher. I turned around and headed back to the other end of town where the warehouse is located. Normally, I would have continued on to the high school to finish my rounds and worried about delivering the supplies later in the morning. But, for some reason, I turned around and headed the other way.

Within seconds, while heading down SH-6 (the high school is on that highway), off in the distance I saw flashing lights coming towards me. One unmarked car with lights flashing sped by me headed toward the High School. Seconds later, another unmarked car with lights flashing sped by me. By the time I got to the other end of town, many other emergency vehicles sped by me heading that way. I remember saying to myself, "Don't tell me there's another shooter drill!" A few months earlier, the high school was locked down because someone heard "bangs", like gunshots, in the area surrounding the high school. First responders arrived at the high school, as did parents whose kids had called or texted them that there was shooter on campus. In the end, that lockdown turned out to be precautionary because there was not a shooter on campus.

This time, it was different.

I don't know what the answers are to prevent school shootings. Heck, I don't even know the questions! All I do know is I am a different person today and I will never be the same person again. Neither will anyone in this small community be the same again. The parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends of the victims, God help them, will continue to grieve for the rest of their lives.

I was there when the kids came back to school for the first time after the shootings. It was very somber and almost dreamlike being there, and like nothing I had ever experienced. Looking at the faces of the students and staff, I could see the heartbreak and sadness in their eyes. I can only speak for myself, but coming back to work since the shootings has been difficult at best. Rose Kennedy, the mother of John F. and Robert F. Kennedy once said, "It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone."

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