How We Got The Story: When a national tragedy hits close to home
The news out of Uvalde was horrific.
We grieved as we learned the depths of the tragic shooting -- 19 students and two teachers killed. Then we discovered that Layla Salazar, one of the young students killed, had ties to the Elgin community.
Through social media posts on Wednesday, we learned that Layla's parents had lived in Elgin and that many family members still lived in the area. Though the shooting happened more than 1,000 miles away from the Chicago suburbs, people in our neighborhoods were grieving the loss of a niece or cousin who loved to swim and dance.
Reporter Rick West reached out to two men who posted about Layla on social media. A public records database search provided a phone number to reach out to Vinnie Salazar, Layla's father and a former Elgin resident.
As we tried to connect with family members, we learned through social media about a fundraiser a family friend was planning for the Salazar family.
Though I remained hopeful I could still talk to family members later on Thursday, my focus turned to the fundraiser and letting our readers know how they could help.
I connected through Facebook Messenger with Esteban Peralez, who was organizing the fundraiser and went to Larkin High School with Vinnie Salazar. I spoke to him within an hour of messaging him. He was leaving for a trip later that day and was kind enough to accommodate a quick interview by phone before he left.
And just as with this story, it was a Facebook post that had moved him to take action. After reading Salazar's post about his daughter, Peralez couldn't help but do something, he said.
"We're just trying to show kindness. I believe we need that right now with everything that's going on," Peralez told me.
Later in the day, one of the men Rick West had reached out to on Wednesday had gotten in touch with him to say he could talk to us. West forwarded me the contact information, and I reached out to Abraham Perez, who is a cousin of Melinda Alejandro Salazar, Layla's mother. He shared the pain the family members, many of whom still live in the Elgin area, were feeling and how they were leaning on one another during this time. He also expressed his gratitude for people stepping up to help his cousin's family.
Ultimately, I was not able to talk to Vinnie Salazar that Thursday. So pulled information from an AP story to help share details about Layla -- like how she loved to swim, dance to Tik Tok videos and sing Guns N Roses' "Sweet Child O'Mine" along with her father on the way to school each day.
As a nation, we were shocked and saddened by another senseless tragedy. As a community, we strive to pull together to help a family that is hurting and to honor the memory of a victim like Layla.
If you'd like to help, donations to the Salazar family can be made on their GoFundMe page. Peralez' fundraiser, which will feature a variety of DJs, is scheduled for June 10 at Mi Vallerta in South Elgin. Admission to the event is $20.