Every year for nearly two decades, Elsa Avila prepared for the school year ahead. But after she was shot last May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, she took a year off to reconsider a career she now felt lacked a sense of safety, security and peace of mind.
Avila recently walked to her mailbox and found a letter from Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District. The letter was informing her that she had 10 days to decide if she was returning to school again to teach. The thought of retiring had crossed Avila's mind, but her passion for teaching left her torn on a return.
Avila spent months recovering from a gunshot wound to the stomach. She said at the beginning, her recovery was painful and she struggled to shake the nightmare she lived through on May 24, 2022. Avila only left her home for doctors' appointments and therapy. She said the thought of being in a crowded place, like a grocery store, felt overwhelming.
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Throughout her recovery, some of her students and their parents reached out to check in on her and even wished her a happy birthday.
"It makes me feel loved and appreciated and that I made a difference in their life," Avila said.
This month, Avila attended a Uvalde CISD ceremony honoring teachers. She received her pin for 20 years of teaching. A note attached to the pin read, "Elsa Avila 20 ruby years Uvalde Elementary." She said the note was a little bittersweet after she noticed the school district opted for "Uvalde Elementary" instead of "Robb Elementary" school, where she worked.
"To me, it feels like they're trying to erase what happened," Avila said.
She said every day she looks in the mirror and she sees her scar, she's reminded of the terror that ravaged her school and changed the lives of countless families.
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With every passing day, Avila feels like she's getting better, but she still struggles with the guilt of feeling helpless, unable to protect her students as she bled on her classroom floor from a gunshot wound. She remembers her students worrying that she stopped breathing.
"They were afraid that I was dead," Avila said.
The nightmares still come and go, but now that a year has passed they're less frequent.
"Now I can sleep. Before, I had to sleep with the lights on because the darkness would trigger this fear … I felt like I was in danger," Avila said.
Now, as Avila weighs the pros and cons to returning to school, she can't help but think of escape routes and wonder if she has the ability to keep her students safe.
"Everyone now feels that, you know, it's the teacher's responsibility to keep their children safe and to keep their children alive when something like this happens," she said. "That's very hard for me because I was injured and I couldn't do very much for my students at that time. And that's the hardest, you know?"
In September of 2022, Avila told Scripps News she did not plan to return to teaching, but she's since had a change of heart.
"I've thought about retiring and I just can't seem to want to let go yet," Avila said. "I want to go back. I want to end on a happier note."
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