(Uvalde, Texas) Almost the entire year has passed since a shooter walked into the classroom where Noah Orona and Mayah Zamora were fourth graders, in Uvalde.

One of 142 bullets he fired inside the school that day ripped through 10-year-old Noah’s back and exited near the shoulder blade. Mayah was shot seven times, in the chest, arm and both hands.

Their two teachers died that day, along with half of their classmates.

After taking Noah to dinner in town, she led him past the large murals honoring the 19 students and 2 teachers who lost their lives.

Noah nodded and focused on his shoes.

When they got back in the truck, she asked him how things were going at his new private school, and he showed her the superhero costume he had made that day for a project. It was a purple mask and a cape with the word “Zap” on it.

She asked him, “What superpower would you like to have?” »

He immediately had an answer: the power to create an alternate world, where “bad things” never happen. Then he put on his headphones and stared out the window for the rest of the drive home.

Mayah, now 11, hardly ever returned to Uvalde: her parents moved the family an hour and a half away to San Antonio, closer to the hospital where doctors perform surgery after surgery , attempted to remove the shards of metal lodged in his body.

Both families have watched their children begin to slowly, remarkably heal from the brutal force of the AR-15 rifle that targeted them nearly a year ago, an attack that left the small town of Uvalde a symbol of the inexplicable escalation of violence in the country.

Neither fully recognizes the child she has today.

The names and faces of the students who died have become familiar, with their parents joining a growing group of national lobbyists who appear on television and at legislative hearings, advocating for tougher anti-dumping laws. ‘fire arms.

Much less has been heard of the children who survived, such as Noah and Mayah.

“Noah is not the same boy anymore,” said his father, Oscar Orona.

Mayah’s mother, Christina Zamora, said it was a “miracle” that her daughter survived.

“We are happy to have her here with us,” she said. “But it’s another Mayah. »

It was around 11:30 a.m. on May 24. Noah, Mayah, and their classmates from room 112 at Robb Elementary School had started watching a movie. Their teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, circulated in the room.

The 11 students nearby, in room 111, connected by an unlocked interior door, were watching The Addams Family.

It was then that the shooter, who days after his 18th birthday had purchased two AR-15 rifles and over 1,700 5.56mm hollow bullets, burst into the hallway. He unleashed a barrage of fire in both classrooms.

While Noah played dead, Mayah was bleeding next to a girl who called 911, more than once, when the shooter walked into the nearby classroom. Ms. Mireles was seriously injured, but she managed to call her husband, a school district policeman who was outside the school. She asked for help.

But help was slow to come. Reluctant to enter classrooms before a tactical team arrived, officers waited 77 minutes before rushing in and killing the shooter. In the end, Mrs. Garcia was dead. Ms. Mireles, who had used her body to try to protect Noah and a few other students, was fatally injured. The teacher in room 111, Arnulfo Reyes, who had told his students to get under their desks and “pretend they were sleeping”, was injured. All his students were killed. Of the 17 students in room 112, 8 died.

The Oronas remember running towards the school when they heard the announcement of an active shooter.

Mr. Orona was unable to visit his son’s classroom. Noah had been crying hysterically by the time the tactical team finally entered, video footage later showed, but by the time he was put into an ambulance he had calmed down, said Ms. Diaz-Orona. “He hasn’t cried since. »

Noah was then airlifted to a larger hospital in San Antonio. Doctors said the bullet that passed through Noah’s upper torso did not hit any vital organs. Mr. Orona thought the wound would be the size of a bullet; he wasn’t ready to see the large hole in his son’s back, surrounded by badly mangled tissue.

Aboard another helicopter, a mobile medical team injected Mayah with two units of blood; she received four more at the hospital.

Dr. Ronald Stewart, a trauma surgeon at San Antonio University Hospital, who treated her, had seen this type of extreme injury five years earlier, when a shooter armed with another AR-15 type rifle had killed 26 people and injured 22 others at a church in nearby Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Unlike a conventional handgun, which can propel a bullet into an arm or chest, an AR-15 rifle fires at such speed that the bullets create a pressure wave, creating a cavity in the body that destroys tissues and internal organs in its path.

Doctors intubated Mayah and began the first of about 60 grueling surgeries: reconstructive surgery to fix her right hand, which was nearly torn; skin grafts to cover cut flesh; incisions to remove dead tissue and bullet fragments lodged near his wounds.

In June, her condition improved from critical to fair and she was able to begin rehabilitation. She spent six hours a day working to regain movement in her legs and hands.

At the end of July, she finally left the hospital; dozens of medical staff stood along the hallway, cheering and chanting his name.

It was “incredible and beautiful,” Mr. Stewart said, wiping away tears as he recounted the story. “The first stage of the mission. »

A few weeks after her hospitalization, Mayah showed off her sharp white acrylic nails to her mother and 12-year-old older brother, Zach.

Christina Zamora and her husband, Ruben, had rented a modest furnished one-story house on a quiet street in San Antonio.

But even there, loud noises sometimes terrify Mayah. She wakes up crying from nightmares.

At first, the siblings retreated to their own corners of the house, Zach not sure how to behave around his sister. But recently, they started bickering again. Ms. Zamora yells at them to stop, but secretly appreciates that they’re acting more like they used to.

One thing they almost never talk about is what happened that day at school.

But in February, the parents of Mayah’s classmate, Tess Mata, invited them to celebrate Tess’ 11th birthday. The ceremony was to take place where Tess was, in the cemetery of Uvalde.

The Zamora were hesitant to go there.

It was in Uvalde that they had met when they were teenagers, and it was there that Mrs. Zamora had always intended to raise her family. Now, whenever they were near town and saw a sign for Uvalde, their hearts ached.

They decided to do it this time.

On a hot, sunny day, they joined others gathered around Tess’s grave and released purple balloons into the air. Mayah quietly studied the graves and noticed that there were none for another friend of hers, Maite Rodriguez. She leaned over to Tess’ mother, Veronica Mata. “Where’s Maite?” she asked.

Veronica Mata explained that the family chose to cremate her. Still puzzled, Mayah asked her mother where Maite’s ashes were. “Sometimes parents want to keep their ashes at home, to be closer to them,” Ms. Zamora whispered.

Mayah nodded and fell silent.

The Oronas had also considered leaving Uvalde, the only place they felt at home. But they decided to stay. At least in Uvalde people would understand what their son had been through.

Noah only spent a week in the hospital. But then there were eight months of rehabilitation. Ms. Diaz-Orona says she sometimes held back tears when he turned to her for help. “Mom, this hurts so much,” he said, pointing to his shoulder. But she gently urged him to continue. “He never gave up,” she said. “He’s our little hero. »

Gradually, Noah regained almost full use of his limbs and began having therapy sessions once a week. They tried to take him to the mall or the cinema, and Noah tried to be more social; then he suddenly withdrew into himself, overwhelmed by the crowd and the loud noises.

At the start of the school year in September, he told his parents that he did not feel safe joining his former classmates in the public school in another part of town where primary school students Robb had been transferred. So they enrolled him in Sacred Heart Catholic School, where he joined a youth basketball team. “He doesn’t score a lot of hoops,” his mother explains. “We just want to see him try to be a normal boy. »

When asked what has been the biggest struggle of the past year, Noah looks down. “The shot,” he said softly. Then he adds, “Psychotherapy. »

At home, Noah feels safest in his room. He plays video games to pass the time. Recently, he sat down at his bedroom desk and carefully sketched a silhouette of Spider-Man, his favorite superhero.

“He’s shy, then becomes a cool superhero,” Noah says softly as he draws.

Lately, Noah has been interested in the future. He would like to become a dental hygienist or a veterinarian.

He struggled to come to terms with what happened in his own way. For months, he avoided going to Uvalde Square, where people flock every day to pay their respects to the victims in front of the murals and the 21 white wooden crosses dedicated to them.

That day at the beginning of the year, when they finally got there, Noah silently watched the images of his friends. He then knelt for several minutes before a cross adorned with flowers and pictures of Ms. Mireles.

Back home, as he was leaving for basketball practice, he made a few throws outside the house towards a hoop his dad had just set up. Ms. Diaz-Orona looked at her watch. They were already 45 minutes late, but she decided not to say anything, watching as her son tossed the ball over the net: once, twice, three times, until it fell into the hoop.