UVALDE, Texas — Border Patrol agents who responded to the shooting at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday are struggling to cope with the inhumanities they witnessed.
Border Patrol agents are federal law enforcement and typically intercept human and drug smugglers attempting to enter the United States illegally. However, on Tuesday, agents stationed in Uvalde and the surrounding area responded en masse to calls for backup for the school shooting.
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“We had some agents who are in kind of bad shape because some of them had to help carry bodies out of the school,” said Jon Anfinsen, a Border Patrol agent who is union president of the National Border Patrol Council's Del Rio chapter. “There are a lot of agents who saw some pretty terrible things.”
“A gunshot wound to a child is really traumatic — not just to Border Patrol, but any medic who went in,” said a senior federal law enforcement official familiar with the investigation into the attack. “You don’t get over that in a few days. Those are wounds that stick with you.”
In response, Border Patrol has sent in “peer support” agents who are trained to help fellow agents when they are going through a difficult time. Counselors from El Paso and Laredo were also sent in to evaluate and help affected agents.
Anfinsen said the recovery process is complicated because Border Patrol in the region “can’t really even afford” to let agents take time off because the region is buried responding to record-high illegal crossings at the border. He added that there is no protocol within the Border Patrol for recovering from this type of incident.
Anfinsen said at least one agent lost a grandchild in the shooting and that others may have had family members who were affected, adding that several dozen agents across four regional stations live in Uvalde.
The union sent a message to members Wednesday afternoon encouraging them to speak with friends and family, as well as free mental health resources available to them.
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“We’re already in a bad spot with suicides as it is,” Anfinsen said, referring to a rise over the last year in suicides among the 19,500 agents nationwide. “The last thing we want to see happen is people who are having trouble dealing with this going that route."
“That's really our biggest concern right now — is just people not taking this, keeping it inside, and letting it eat them up," he said. "Because then people use alcohol to cope. And then just nonsense from there."