Texas School Shooting Survivor, 9, Recalls Terrifying Day at Robb Elementary: 'I Couldn't Sleep Last Night'

Adalynn Garza tells PEOPLE how she survived the shooting that killed 19 of her schoolmates and two teachers

Members of the community gather at the City of Uvalde Town Square for a prayer vigil in the wake of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. According to reports, 19 students and 2 adults were killed before the gunman was fatally shot by law enforcement.
Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty

When gunfire rang out at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, third grader Adalynn Garza took shelter in a classroom and practiced what she was taught.

"I just sat down and stayed at a level zero," Adalynn tells PEOPLE. "That means no talking and stay quiet."

Adalynn was joined by some friends, who knew through lockdown drills to turn off the lights and avoid drawing attention to themselves. While they hid, 19 of their schoolmates and two teachers were fatally gunned down by an 18-year-old shooter.

"People kept saying that it was fireworks," Adalynn recalls, but as she heard loud pops coming from the fourth grade building, she feared something worse was happening. "I said, 'No, it was a gun' … because a firework does not sound like that."

Uvalde victims memorial
Memorial for the 21 victims of the Uvalde school shooting. Elaine Aradillas

Though astute for a 9-year-old, Adalynn — who wears a T-shirt she got from her school to honor the lives lost — still has a lot to process. She says her cousin had to climb out a window to escape the fourth grade building, getting sliced by glass on the way out; and that another one of her cousins got her nose "cut off" after she was shot in the face and legs. A third cousin, she says, had a bullet go through her arm. (Fortunately, that one is home now — "she made it through surgery.")

"I couldn't sleep last night," Adalynn says. "Because when I was sleeping it just came through my head."

The shooter is believed to have crashed his car in a ditch near the school and then barricaded himself in a building on campus — Adalynn notes that every classroom door stays locked from the outside, so it's strange that he was able to enter in the first place.

At some point during the lengthy incident, the shooter was killed — likely by a law enforcement official, authorities say. But despite his death, the children of Robb Elementary will have a difficult time feeling safe at school in the future.

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Dr. Daniel Guzman of the Cook Children's Health Care System tells PEOPLE, "Unfortunately, to say that we can do one step and our kids will get over this and we'll all be over this [is false]. This has long-lasting effects on all of us."

"Letting the children know that we're there for them –– that despite this horrific incident that occurred, that we are here to help them get through this and that they're safe," Guzman continues. "It doesn't feel that way right now obviously."

"It's going to take months, if not years, for these families to heal," Guzman addss. "The healing takes time."

In the meantime, "I feel scared," Adalynn says. "Because what happens when it happens again?"

The school district in Uvalde has opened an official account with First State Bank of Uvalde to support Robb Elementary families affected by the tragedy. People can send checks through the mail (payable to the "Robb School Memorial Fund") or donate money through Zelle to robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com. People can also donate by calling 830-356-2273.

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