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‘Empty spaces, broken hearts’: Uvalde, Texas, in mourning

A heart-shaped balloon floats at a memorial site outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 30, 2022. In a town as small as Uvalde, even those who didn't lose a family member in the May 24 school shooting lost someone. Some now say that closeness is both their blessing and their curse: They can lean on each other to grieve. But every single one of them is grieving. (AP Photo / Wong Maye-E)

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Working in all formats, the team of Claire Galofaro, Maye-E Wong and Allen Breed collaborated on an extraordinary portrait of a town grieving after the May 24 mass shooting that left gaping holes in its fabric.

In a chaotic and fraught environment with countless journalists gathered around the memorials and overwhelming the family members of shooting victims, the AP trio decided to approach the story differently. They split up, looking for the people in that next circle of relationships: barbers, bus drivers and others who crossed paths with the affected families.

In part they wanted to avoid harassing the same relatives everyone else was interviewing, but they also wanted to explore the connections within the community. Working long days, all three contributed to AP’s ongoing spot coverage — they did go to the memorials and vigils crowded with TV cameras, but they also visited the places where kids would usually be found: the city park, the community pool, neighborhoods, a candy shop.

National writer Galofaro talked with a doctor and bus driver, then arranged for video and photos. Enterprise photographer Wong found the family of a young boy who had been in the school, and gently convinced them to share their story; she texted the others to meet her at their home. And video journalist Breed pointed out some of the most moving details, like the names carved in the climbing castle in the park.

It all came together in a heart-wrenching story, elegantly rendered in a presentation by digital storyteller Samantha Shotzbarger.

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New York-based photographer Maye-E Wong pets Joy, a comfort dog at a memorial to the Robb Elementary School shooting victims on the town square in Uvalde, Texas, May 28, 2022. – AP / ALLEN G. BREED

The package appeared on numerous websites and front pages,including prominent display by the Newark,N.J.,Star-Ledger,and it scored among the week’s top stories for reader engagement on the AP News platform.

The team received compliments from readers on the sensitive and compassionate way they covered this traumatic story. Most satisfyingly,there was the text from Josie Albrecht,the bus driver whose story led the piece: “You all did a wonderful job,” she wrote, adding two yellow hearts and a rainbow bus emoji.

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