UVALDE, Texas — Just as the sun rose on May 27, I rounded a turn into an Uvalde neighborhood where Rolando Reyes was outside working on his truck, wearing a tight-brimmed ball cap, pajama pants, a worn gray t-shirt, and slippers in the mild Texas heat.
Reyes, the grandfather of the alleged Robb Elementary School gunman Salvador Rolando Ramos, knew I was coming. (I was early and got in the way of his planned shower, hence the attire). He agreed to an interview the night before. However, when we sat down, he changed his mind.
Reyes said we could talk, and I could report on our conversation, so long as it wasn’t audio recorded, and asked me not to take notes. He just wanted to speak person to person.
I agreed to his requests.
What follows is my recollection of what turned into an hour-plus-long conversation at Reyes’ tall-chair kitchen table for four. We discussed a lot: The tragedy, his wife’s recovery from also being shot on that fateful day, Texas gun culture, Governor Greg Abbott, and faith, to name a few.
I was planning on finding out more about the relationship between him and his grandson, the teen’s upbringing, and whether Rolando thought the carnage could have been avoided. But he said he would not talk about his grandson directly and had nothing more to say to the media about him. I decided to continue the conversation to see what would come of it.
At one point, though, he reminisced about when his grandson was a young child, and he would carry him with his head resting on his shoulder, saying that he tries to think of the happier times. That was before his grandson got quieter in his teenage years.
The word “heartbreak” is another theme of our conversation worth mentioning at the onset. He said his “heart breaks for the families of the victims and for Uvalde” multiple times throughout our conversation, often as his eyes welled with tears. Unthinkable, horrendous, and horrible, were a few of the words that he used to describe the shooting.
The above comments on the tragedy were near the top of our conversation. The topic shifted when I noticed an open bible on the couch to my right, which spawned a discussion about faith. Reyes said he is non-denominational, and he reads scripture to follow the word of God directly. It’s something that began years ago when he was in prison.
Reyes’s wife – who was allegedly shot by her grandson and remains hospitalized – is a devout Catholic. The day before we spoke, he brought her bible to the hospital. Throughout our conversation, he fiddled with his wife’s dark red rosary beads and glasses that he planned to drop off to her later that day. He said her condition is better, but she’s “not out of the woods yet.”
The hospital is about an hour and a half away in San Antonio, so those trips combined with some work fill most of his days. He mentioned that they encourage him to eat at the hospital because they know he hasn’t been since the shooting. Like many, Reyes also hasn’t slept as much, and he said it still hasn’t sunk in what’s happened. He said he’s been hesitant to go into town and see someone he knows, adding that some of his friends are grandparents of a few of the victims.
With these struggles in mind, I asked about the importance of faith at this time. He said you have to trust in God that he will “give you the strength,” and that goes for the entire community.
Eventually, Reyes got up to refill his mug of instant coffee. In those few minutes, I noticed a few media business cards on the table in front of me and so I asked about the media presence. He said he understands that reporters have a job to do, but at the same time he said it’s been overwhelming the number driving to his home, knocking on the door, and asking the same few questions about his grandson that he has answered already, and so now his reply is generally “no comment.”
Reyes said one question he appreciated was “what is your message to the victims’ families?” And the answer centered on praying for them, and that he is heartbroken for their loss.
When Reyes sat back down, I asked him about Governor Abbot calling his grandson evil. After I said it, his eyes widened and he replied, “he said that?” before bowing his head in disbelief. He hadn’t followed the governor’s comments. He said he agreed with Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, who denounced the governor’s remarks, saying that this was an evil act to take the lives of innocent people, but everyone has dignity.
Reyes was appreciative of Archbishop Siller’s words and said he would like to meet him.
From here, Reyes went right into the gun culture of Texas. He can’t be around guns due to a previous felony conviction, but that aside, he was passionately against the ease that people, his grandson included, can buy them. He reiterated what dawned on him after the shooting: “People have to wait until they’re 21 to drink alcohol but they’re allowed to buy guns at 18. How is that possible? How does that make sense?”
It wasn’t long after that our conversation ended. We shook hands, and each said thank you and God bless. It was clear at that moment, as it was throughout our conversation, that he was still shocked and processing what happened on May 24. He admitted as much and said in due time he wants to do another in-depth interview (that can be recorded and/or noted) for a piece.
For now, Reyes is going to keep going hour by hour, day by day. As I backed the car out of the driveway and drove off, he waved and went across the street to greet his neighbor with immediate plans to feed the cats and travel to San Antonio to visit his wife at the hospital. It was five minutes to eight and time to start another day in this new, unthinkable, reality.