This is a speculative fiction piece regarding the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Out of respect for all involved, names have either been ommited, switched or changed. This material is sensitive and may be triggering to some readers. Discretion is recommended.
Out of Time: The Story of Xavier Cuevas
By Hash Taggert
If this is a story about time, we’re out of it.
Xavier Cuevas was out of time the day he was shot and killed by law enforcement officers at an Uvalde, Texas elementary school. On that fateful day, the enraged teenager shot and killed at least 19 children and two adults while waging a war against a life for which he never asked, against a mother he couldn’t save from herself, against a body that held him back from the normal set of milestones that so brightly color childhood.
It was easy to dismiss Xavier Cuevas as an introverted teenager with little social investment. He had a strong lisp and a pronounced stutter; a combination that contributed to his painful shyness. Unfortunately, Cuevas’ speech impediment also made him an obvious target for relentless bullying in elementary and in middle school. For many of his peers, it seemed far easier and more socially acceptable to tear down rather than to support Xavier. This nightmarish scenario seems especially troubling since Texas’ Early Childhood Intervention services might have curtailed Xavier’s speech challenges if help had been sought sooner.
Still, Xavier did manage to attain some allies, but he’d been so late to develop any sense of social intelligence, these friendships would not last through his adolescence. Even among his allies, it was suggested that Xavier began to “take the things he said or did too far.” In one particularly ghoulish incident, one former friend, Fransisco Rodriguez, described how Xavier parked his car in a local parking lot and simply sat behind the driver’s seat, “waiting.” When Fransisco met him, he claims that Xavier’s face “was covered in cuts.” Xavier soon confessed to cutting himself up because it “felt good.”
“I stopped being friends with him after that,” Rodriguez said.
Xavier’s behavior “got worse and worse,” particularly after Fransisco moved to another part of Texas with his mother, thus further eroding Cuevas’ already thin support system.
One could argue, of course, that many of Xavier’s social travails were exacerbated by a turbulent home life. An admitted drug addict, Xavier’s mother, Corina Chavez, appeared strangely aloof when asked to speak about her son. As a single mother in and out of treatment programs, little is known about the extent of Corina’s direct involvement in her son’s care save what was reported by Xavier’s grandmother. His grandmother, who became his primary caretaker, was in fact the first of his victims the day of his shooting rampage, sustaining critical injuries to her face before Xavier ever reached the school.
What is not as well known is that Xavier kept a strong bond with his mother, it seems, despite herself. Throughout his childhood, Xavier expressed a deep and abiding love for his mother even when she was away and an aunt or his grandmother would intercede to care for him. He would come home from school only to see his mother being driven away to yet another program, and in those desperate moments, Xavier arrived too late to even hug her goodbye.
Yet as often as Xavier expressed reluctance to attend school due to bullying, he would confess that he felt powerless to support his mother with her addiction. “He just wanted to help her,” shared an aunt. “She should have been helping him.”
During his tumultuous adolescence, Xavier’s earnest desire to help his mother gave way to resentment and anger. The mother-son relationship deteriorated quickly. According to his mother, Xavier would have “violent outbursts” and “lose control.” A short lived period of stability wherein Xavier lived with Corina came to an end after Corina called 911 to report her son’s most explosive of episodes. The call culminated in Corina choosing to evict her son from her home.
Corina failed to understand that with each passing year, Xavier felt his chances of helping her slip away. Though ultimately blameless, he shouldered more of the burden of his mother’s affliction than he was ever supposed to. In a bitterly ironic twist, he reportedly blamed his impediment for “weakening” him, for holding him back “until it was too late” for his mother, his friends and for himself.
The rift that grew between mother and son may have been inevitable. However, if this is a story about time, time began to run out for twenty one unsuspecting victims when an enraged eighteen year old procured a semi automatic assault rifle along with over three hundred rounds of ammunition. Xavier, who’d slipped into the school through an unlocked and unguarded side door, snuck into an empty classroom and waited before he commenced shooting. After the shooting began, the Uvalde police department seemed slow to respond, and questions have since arisen in the Press regarding local law enforcement’s readiness levels, training and equipment shortages. 117 minutes after the armed suspect entered Robinson Elementary school, he was fatally shot by a Border Patrol Tactical Unit.
If this is a narrative regarding time, do we shudder knowing Xavier Cuevas was alive at yet another period in US history where firearms assume more importance to Americans than a woman’s right to choose? And do we think it worse for the youth to have been born in Texas, where the use of firearms appears to be a right of passage for so many during their own adolescence?
Was Xavier’s fate and the fate of his victims sealed by being born in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Or do we, as a nation, finally face the awful truth? Time is running out for us to address weakening federal and state gun legislation in the face of an apparent increase in mass shootings. The clock is ticking while we distract ourselves with the tawdry, lascivious or destructive tendencies of celebrity culture while forgetting the names and faces of another set of mass shooting victims “because it didn’t happen in our state.” The surviving families and friends of Xavier’s murder victims are still looking for answers. With the release of new video footage of the shootings, will we let more time slip away before we seek accountability for what appears to have been an abysmally inadequate police response?
It falls to us as a nation to prevent the death of more innocent people. With real and permanent changes in United States gun control legislation, stricter accountability measures for local law enforcement, and a long, honest effort to eliminate bullying in our society, we may have the beginnings of a positive and actionable plan. This long awaited answer might even stick if it can remain unhindered or unsullied by the cynical politics of gun lobbyists and their powerful government allies.
Letter to The Editor RE: Out of Time: The Story of Xavier Cuevas
Well, this marks the ninth time I’ve read this internet article. I’m finally ready to respond to the words, and the feelings those words might have brought out in me.
Who am I? Well, that’s a funny question. I never imagined as a law enforcement officer, I would respond to a school shooting within our borders to take down a kid that was killing other kids. No amount of paramilitary tactical training could have prepared my mind or spirit for that one.
I also never expected to have an identity crisis when the mission was over. Let me explain. My gun fired the bullets that found their mark, passing through the flesh, bone and brain matter of a mass murdering kid. He was old enough to vote, old enough to obtain and carry a semi automatic rifle, but not old enough to figure out that a real tactical vest would be made with kevlar or some other armored plating. Did I just gun down a domestic terrorist or an angry, frightened teenager with no way past his pain?
Yet Social Media has somehow brought the world three different versions of me. One of these “me’s” is Border Patrol Agent Rubio. As agent Rubio, I was supposedly off duty and sitting down for an afternoon haircut at the local barbershop when I got the frantic call from my wife who teaches at Robinson Elementary School. She told me that there was an active shooter on site. She then begged me for help as she reminded me that my daughter, a student at the school, was in the shooter's path, sitting in a classroom with other frightened kids.
Well “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let my wife and kid be killed by this psycopath!” I probably shouted as I donned a bandana, grabbed my Barber’s shotgun, headed straight for the school, rushed in and rescued my daughter and every other surviving child. When my wife and child were both safe and sound outside the school, I whirled around, leaped back into the school like an action hero, located the perp behind a locked door, kicked down the door and single handedly ended the reign of terror that left 21 victims dead.
There is another version of me out there. According to Facebook, I go by the identity of Sheriff’s Deputy Teodoro Cruz, and in this story, I was also off duty when I got another terrifying call from yet another trembling wife who informed me that my ten year old daughter was in one of the classrooms near “where shots were fired.” I naturally raced to the scene in full uniform and “felt my heart drop” as the intercepting force that I somehow joined on the spot burst through a barricaded door and took down a vicious mass murderer. This version of the killer had been armed with a semi automatic rifle, a hand grenade, endless ammo, and enough rage to kill everyone in the school if we hadn’t taken him out.
The last version of me is an anonymous member of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC). As a member of this global response unit, I’ve undergone a gruelling training regimen based on the US Special Forces program. All of BORTAC’s members work well as a team, perform with precision under pressure, and we won’t ever stop until our missions are complete. We are among the elite. I’ve been deployed for many missions, none of which I’m at liberty to talk about.
In my head, all these badasses are being played by Danny Trejo.
I’ve thought long and hard about who I really am compared to who I am on social media. I can honestly say that right now, I am all these men. And like the version of Xavier Cuevas we read about in that article, all of these “me’s” are human, and we all struggle sometimes with bad timing and being “too late” to make things right.
Unlike Xavier Cuevas, however, all three versions of me still have to live with the horrible consequences of what being late meant that day. Forget about fate and God if you can, and think about this: One of the murder victims was the daughter of the Uvalde Sheriff’s Deputy. There probably isn’t a moment that the poor father isn’t cursing himself for not getting there sooner. He and his wife watched their daughter receive an award at a school awards ceremony hours before she was shot dead. What if he’d stuck around longer after the ceremony?
I have to take a deep breath when I think about that.
I’ll bet money the off duty Border Patrol Officer wishes he’d gotten there sooner too. It turns out a lot of that story was exaggerated, but Officer Martín Rubio did rescue his daughter and other kids while his wife, who was already at the school, made it safely outside. Rubio didn’t have the equipment he needed to neutralise or take out an active shooter. Could he have rescued any of those poor kids before Xavier Cuevas gunned them down?
That’s a question that would keep me up at night.
As a member of BORTAC, I might be the best able to tamp down emotion and avoid inner turmoil even after the mission is complete. But there’s no telling when serious PTSD will strike. I accomplished my mission, but when I was deployed was not my call to make.
What if I’d been deployed sooner?
Xavier Cuevas doesn’t have to wrestle with these questions. I do. But this letter, which I can’t send for Homeland (and job) security reasons, isn’t about time; it’s about what all three of “me” will now have to live with.
God bless America.