Images of the frantic parents of students at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, screaming and crying as they waited to hear if their children were alive or dead after the mass shooting that killed 19 children and 2 adults, flooded social media on Tuesday.
The next day, parents across the country prepared to take their kids to school.
"You just gotta say goodbye and hope you'll get the chance to say hello again," Chris O'Connell, a local news reporter based in Austin, told BuzzFeed News. "School should be the most safe place in the world for our kids. And it's unfortunately not."
O'Connell, who has elementary-age children, said he and his wife discussed not taking their kids to school today, but ultimately decided they should. Like the kids of Robb Elementary, it's the end of the school year for them — the fun-but-important final days before summer.
"Once school started up again [after COVID-19 closures], it was easier for us to work and fun for the kids to go. They love learning and being with friends," O'Connell said. "But right now, I can't wait till I can make sure they're safe with me. ... The idea that you, at any moment, might not know if your child is alive or dead is a nightmare for any parent."
Ryan, who declined to give her last name, wrote in a tweet that the "only good thing" about COVID-19 was that for two years, "we didn't have to worry if our kids were going to come home from school." Her child, now 20, is studying to be an early education teacher.
"My daughter grew up doing active shooter drills in school, and it's terrifying that she might one day have to shield her students from bullets," she told BuzzFeed News, noting that she lives in a state with some of the strictest gun laws and lowest gun death rates.
"The 'greatest country in the world' is the biggest lie that's ever been told," Ryan said. "We are just barely mediocre."
Other parents shared their struggle to part ways with their kids, knowing the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, is far from the first deadly attack on young children at school.
"I dropped off my 5 year old and as I hugged her, [I thought] could this be the last time?" Twitter user @yellowdart wrote.
"Best part of my day is picking my kid up from school, it should be the most basic guaranteed joy, cannot fathom the grief and rage, this country is so cruel and lost," author Lucas Mann wrote on Twitter.
For parents, the joy of picking their kids up from school has dissolved into the only relief for their unthinkable anxieties.
"I know instinctively my kids are probably OK, but the idea of not knowing is the scariest thing," O'Connell told BuzzFeed News.
Heartbroken parents shared how the fear of "not knowing" about their kids' safety at any given time felt like "too much risk."
"My heart aches for the people in Uvalde. I know that nothing will make those parents feel any better about what happened, but the only way that anything will change is if these politicians actually do something about the epidemic of gun violence," O'Connell told BuzzFeed News. "It's depressing that this has become so common. People should be outraged. I hope something changes."
Ryan said it seemed "the only thing politicians are willing to do is offer thoughts and prayers," but even that seems disingenuous.
"We watched Republican step over the corpses of 5-year-old children at Sandy Hook so they could cash their NRA checks," she said. "Politicians love talking about their Second Amendment right to bear arms, but what about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the 19 kids murdered in Texas?"