'Godsend' Uvalde firefighters raise funds for injured kids: 'They have blessed us immensely'

Kat Caulderwood/ABC News

(UVALDE, Texas) -- Ten-year-old Samuel Salinas was in his Uvalde, Texas, classroom on May 24 when he was shot in the leg.

He played dead and survived, his family says.

"He's still dealing with pain, he's still having a hard time," Samuel's father, Christopher Salinas, told ABC News.

"I can't comprehend what he's gone through -- what he felt, you know, when he was laying there, playing dead for so long," he said.

In the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed and many others were injured physically and emotionally, Uvalde's volunteer fire department found a new calling: raising money for the young survivors.

Many GoFundMe pages sprung up after the massacre. But Uvalde Volunteer Fire Department president Patrick Williams felt those donation pages were mainly focused on the families of the 21 victims, not the wounded survivors. So he said the fire department worked to identify injured students and eventually built relationships with 15 of those families.

The fire department -- a volunteer organization with just three paid employees -- has gone on to raise more than $4,000 for each of the 15 families, Williams said.

And that effort quickly expanded.

The fire department "started getting phone calls from corporations and organizations and churches and saying, 'Hey, would you distribute our money for us?' And, 'Absolutely' was the answer every time," Williams said. "One of the first ones was a church out of San Antonio -- they sent the checks and we distributed them to the families, and at the same time we gave them some money that we had raised. And then that has continued on."

By facilitating funds from other groups, the fire department has helped provide more than $15,000 for each of the 15 families, according to Williams.

Many of the survivors' families are losing out on wages because the parents felt pulled to stay home with their recovering children, Williams said.

"Kiddos have nightmares, you know, staying in mom and dad's room, because they don't want to be alone. Well, you can't go to work with your child attached to your hip," he said. "A lot of those parents stayed at home for weeks and weeks."

Several families said they've spent their funds so far on needs like groceries, bills and gas to get their kids to physical therapy or counseling.

Christopher and Samuel Salinas are among the 15 families receiving donations from the fire department.

Samuel's mom died in 2019. After the massacre, Christopher Salinas left his job.

With so many "meetings, doctor appointments, it was just very complicated for me to schedule and be there for him, make time for my son," he said. "So the best choice was for me to let go of work for now."

The family of 10-year-old Khloie Torres is in a similar situation. Khloie's father, Ruben Torres Jr., left his job in the wake of the shooting. He called the fire department money a "huge blessing."

"I've never not had a job. And it kind of messes with me, you know? Like, wanting to go to work, but also know that, you know, I need to be here for my daughter and my kids," he said.

Khloie's needs vary day-to-day, her father said. Loud noises scare her and sometimes she's too afraid to go anywhere.

"When I was at work, my mind wasn't really at work, you know? My daughter would constantly be calling me while I was at work, and I'd answer and come to her," he said. "So it kind of just made me realize that I need to be at home and be here for her."

Oscar Orona, whose son, Noah, was shot in the back, is also among the 15 families.

"He's not the same," Oscar Orona told ABC News. "He went through a lot, he saw a lot, that no one should have to see."

The TikTok-loving 10-year-old still undergoes physical therapy but hopes to get back to playing tennis soon, his dad said.

"He's got a really ugly, vicious scar on his shoulder. And I just break down because I know what he went through," Oscar Orona said.

He called the fire department's donations a "Godsend."

"Every time that they're able to, [the firefighters] have been there with either their own fundraising efforts, or helping those that are looking for a way to donate money directly to us," he said. "They have provided us with assistance in all forms, you know -- moral support, financial support."

"I'll never forget everything they've done for us," he said. "So whenever they have, fundraisers, whatever they do, we're going to be there to help in any way we can. Because we firmly believe in always paying forward our blessings, and they have blessed us immensely."

Monday, October 10, 2022 at 6:02AM by Kat Caulderwood, Emily Shapiro and Megan Hundahl Streete, ABC News Permalink