AUSTIN (KXAN) — On June 2, Stephanie Sabatini walked among the memorial set up in front of the Uvalde town square, stopping at each of the 21 crosses the read the names of the 19 students and two teachers killed in the May 24 mass shooting.
Among the crosses lay hundreds of signs, flowers and other memorial mementos. In the pile was a propped, handwritten poster board that read: “Dear children of the world: It’s not supposed to be like this.” That afternoon, amid 103-degree heat and crowds of mourners, she said the magnitude of the tragedy — and the efforts of responders — hit her.
“There are people out there looking out for you,” she said. “We do care about you. We do want you to feel like you’re in a safe and secure world.”
Sabatini is the executive director of The Linus Connection, a Central Texas nonprofit that creates and delivers blankets to children and others who are victims of crises. The nonprofit’s namesake comes from the Peanuts’ character Linus, whose classic blue blanket doubles as a source of security and comfort.
“We just hope that our blankets give the kids out there that same sense of a little bit of security, a little bit of comfort, and that they know that someone out there is thinking of them,” she said.
On any given month, The Linus Connection has a network of 70 volunteers who help create and distribute 400 blankets for those in need. Within the past eight days, they’ve made more than 400 blankets to go to the victims’ family members, elementary teachers, students and others impacted by the mass shooting. Sabatini distributed 180 blankets last Thursday, and will bring more than 250 blankets back to the city Thursday.
Walking through Uvalde’s town square June 2, she said she saw crowds of memorial visitors praying in circles, while Red Cross volunteers passed out waters to mourners amid the Texas summer heat. Walking over to Robb Elementary School, children dropped off handfuls of flowers at the ever-growing memorial.
“I went over to the school and, boy, it just looks like Brushy Creek Elementary or Eanes Elementary School,” she said. “It’s the same. It’s a one-story and there’s lots of playgrounds. And in front of it, there were just huge mounds of flowers, and there was a big picture of each child.”
This is the second targeted response to a Texas tragedy The Linus Connection has coordinated, after its Hurricane Harvey response in 2017. Unlike natural disasters — which often require food, clothing, shelter access and other urgent resources — Sabatini said mass shooting responses center around grief and trauma support.
There can also be a sense of helplessness for those watching this tragedy unfold from the outside, where ways to help aren’t as straightforward as donating blood, resources or volunteer time, she said. This, Sabatini said, is to find the humanity in tragedy and provide even just a little bit of comfort to those seeking it.
“Grief is a terrible thing. It finds you in the corners. It finds you late at night, and it finds everyone and it tends to be contagious,” she said. “And that’s not what I want to be contagious. I want the blanket-making to be contagious and I want the feeling that we can do something and that it’s going to be alright. It’s not going to be the way it was, but it’s going to be okay.”