Under a gray sky spitting misty rain, Christopher Stone tended to his smoker at the Galveston County Fair. He’s a tall man with tattoos on his arms and a graying mustache. He wore a black shirt with green-and-white lettering that read Bonez & Stones Cookers, the name of his cookoff team.
His smoker was filled with food—pork butts, sausage and bacon—some of which he’d later enter into the Fair’s barbecue contest. He was surrounded by his family—his two daughters, Mercedez and Angelica—and close friends. But he was missing an important person: his teenage son, his namesake, Chris Stone.
“You know, the Fair, that’s where my son would be. This is where he would be every damn year,” the senior Chris said.
The younger Chris was killed in the school shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018, when a gunman walked into his art classroom and began shooting. He was 17.
As his family gathers at the fairgrounds, the memories are still too fresh, the pain still too real as they reminisce about their loved one. Angelica, Chris’ older sister, tears up when she talks about her brother.
“Chris was a very down-to-earth person that all he wanted to help,” she said. “And it’s important for people to know him as that and hopefully be inspired by who he was.”
Mercedez was babysitting when she got a call about the shooting. She didn’t have a lot of information, but she immediately felt uneasy; she knew her younger brother was at the school. She tried to keep her composure as the children played.
“You’re trying to act fine, trying to act cool, but you’re not. You’re freaking out,” she said. “And instantly, I don’t know why, I just knew something happened to Chris.”
Mercedez called her dad. He was already on his way to the high school, but she convinced him to turn around and pick her up. As they made their way to the school, they saw an ambulance speeding away from campus. Rather than turning to go to the school, they chose to follow the flashing lights.
At the hospital, they watched paramedics wheel a boy out on a stretcher and take him inside. The older Chris swore it was his son. They walked into the emergency room lobby with other Santa Fe families already inside, joining them for the long waiting game for any updates on their loved ones. An employee walked out and began reading names one by one.
“They get everybody’s name called,” Mercedez said, “and just me and my dad were left in that room by ourselves and left looking at each other like, ‘What do we do?’”
By noon, Mercedez and her dad had gone to several different hospitals looking for Chris. He wasn’t at any of them. Back in Santa Fe, her mom and sister were at a staging area for parents and families, watching as some reunited with their children, watching as busloads of students arrived from the high school. There was no sign of Chris there, either.
“I didn’t bring up that Chris was probably a deceased until that lost hospital,” Mercedez said. “And we walked in and on the TV, ‘eight confirmed deceased.’ And I was like, ‘If there’s eight confirmed deceased and Chris has not called us.’”
Months before the shooting, Chris’ mom, Rosie, asked him what he would do if a shooter ever entered his school. She brought it up because of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died on Valentine’s Day.
Chris said something like he’d try to fight back. Rosie eventually dismissed the idea and told him that the worst thing that would happen in Santa Fe is he might get run over by a cow. They all laughed.
But then it happened. Chris found himself in the art room closet holding the door shut while other students tried to move an oven in front of the door. The shooter was standing outside. Chris was shot in the stomach. Mercedez said he died in the closet, fighting to protect the people, just like he said he would.
Sometime after the shooting, the family took a tour of the art classroom. They wanted to know exactly what happened to Chris in his final moments. As they walked through, Mercedez noticed tiny bullet holes from the numerous shotgun blasts that peppered cabinet doors, the tile floor and the ceiling.
They approached the closet where Chris died. More shotgun blasts pierced the walls. Tiles were missing from the floor where Chris’ body once lay.
“A lot of emotions were running then,” Mercedez said. “I was still in the process of I want to understand. I want to know how this happened—who was first. I need a timeline in my head to make sense of this.”
Back at the Galveston County Fair a year later, the Stone family is still trying to make sense of it all. The senior Chris was still checking the temperature of the meats in his smoker.
As he closed the lid, I noticed a tattoo on his right arm that stretched from his elbow to his wrist.
In black cursive lettering it reads, “Son, forgive me that I live and you are gone. There’s a grief that can’t be spoken, and there’s a pain goes on and on.”
Podcast: 'Santa Fe: Life After the Shooting'
Reporters Grace White and Matt Keyser returned to Santa Fe a year later. What they found were heartbroken families who are still frustrated by the lack of transparency into the shooting investigation and at politicians, who some say, aren’t following through on making schools safer.
In the six-part podcast Santa Fe: Life After the Shooting, White and Keyser share these families’ stories of heartache and how those 30 minutes on May 18, 2018 have changed their lives forever.
Episode 1: The Day Everything Changed
A student gunman entered Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018. He killed 10 people and wounded 13 others, casting this small Texas town into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Episode 2: The First Two
Officers John Barnes and Gary Forward were the first two officers to confront the shooter. John nearly died trying to protect hundreds of students.
Episode 3: Grammy
So little do we hear about the long-lasting effects on the victims’ families after a school shooting. This is the window into one family’s grief who is still learning to live without the woman they knew as Grammy.
Episode 4: Survivor's Guilt
For some students who have had to return to Santa Fe High School, going back hasn’t been easy. Walking through the doors of the school serves as a constant reminder of the lives lost, their friends and classmates no longer there.
Episode 5: The Long Road Ahead
Unfortunately, there are people out there who know what these Santa Fe families are going through. The principal of Columbine, two moms from Sandy Hook and the father who lost his daughter in a school shooting in Colorado share their experiences of how they continue to remember their loved ones.
Episode 6: Frustration Fuels Change
For some of these Santa Fe families, they’re frustrated and angry. They want more transparency into the shooting investigation, more accountability from politicians. And they’ve had to fight in hopes of keeping the shooter in prison for the rest of his life.