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'Don't mess with our kids': Uvalde families get political after lawmakers refuse to tackle gun laws

 Family members of the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting march in Uvalde on July 10, 2022.
Camille Phillips
/
TPR
Family members of the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting march in Uvalde on July 10, 2022.

Up until recently, Javier Cazares was not interested in politics.

“I come from a small town, and you know, it had issues — bad roads, we were always the last to get anything,” Cazares said. “I always said when I grow up, I want to change things. Then afterwards, never thought about it.”

But that was before May 24. That day changed everything for the 43-year-old.

When an 18-year-old shooter went into Robb Elementary School that day and opened fire inside, one of the kids killed was his 9-year-old daughter Jacklyn.

“She was the light of our lives. She was full of life, loved to sing, dance,” Cazares said. “We miss her tons. It’s hard to be here at home without her.”

Cazares said Jacklyn was fearless. He promised her he’d be the same, and fight for her and her friends.

Cazares is now one of many parents in Uvalde who have gotten political after they said lawmakers ignored their pleas for change.

He is now running for a seat on the Uvalde County Commissioners Court.

Fueled by Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision

In the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, families of victims asked Gov. Greg Abbott to call for a special session on gun violence.

They wanted him to direct the Texas Legislature to increase the minimum age for purchasing a semi-automatic weapon to 21. But Abbott refused.

Talking to reporters last month, Abbott said making the change would be unconstitutional.

“There have been three court rulings since May that have made it clear that it is unconstitutional to ban someone between the ages of 18 and 20 from being able to buy an AR,” Abbott said.

Abbott’s comments angered the families in Uvalde, who are still grieving.

They have also motivated many in the town, like Cazares, to get political, and even run for office.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like he cares,” Cazares said. “We are demanding accountability, and he’s just not doing anything.”

Cazares' candidacy is being fueled, in part, by Fierce Madres — an organization made up of women and mothers in Uvalde.

Angela Villescaz, the founder of the group, said members have been attending every single City Council and school board meeting in Uvalde after the shooting. They have pressed officials for accountability, transparency and change.

“The thing about Hispanic moms is you may not know much about our culture, because we are often quiet or treated invisible, or ignored,” Villescaz said. “But you just don’t mess with our kids.”

Her group has seen some gains.

Pete Arredondo, the disgraced chief of police for Uvalde schools, ended up resigning from his position as a City Council member in July.

The rest of his term will be completed by one of Fierce Madres’ members, Eloisa R. Medina

“The only woman, the only mujer, the only madre on the City Council in Uvalde,” Villescaz said. “And that’s extremely important because the things we want to get done, now we have an insight to the City Council there.”

Local and statewide races

Family members in Uvalde are not only focusing on the local races — they’re also going after Abbott.

Parents have been working with Mothers Against Greg Abbott, an organization that has put up billboards between Uvalde and San Antonio. The billboards quote part of a statement Abbott made immediately after the shooting, where he said “it could have been worse,” if not for the response from law enforcement.

We now know, according to a report by the Texas House, police waited over an hour to confront the shooter, despite having the firepower and equipment to do so.

“We cannot look away this time,” Nancy Thompson, the founder of Mothers Against Greg Abbott, said in an interview. “We need to face the imminent danger of gun violence and gun safety in our schools, and Greg Abbott refuses to listen to parents.”

In a statement to The Texas Newsroom, Abbott’s spokesperson Renae Eze said, “Governor Abbott continues to work on solutions focused on the root of the problem: mental health.”

 A sign of Mothers Against Greg Abbott outside a home in East Dallas.
Rachel Osier Lindley
/
The Texas Newsroom
A sign of Mothers Against Greg Abbott outside a home in East Dallas.

None of this has made the situation better for the families of the kids and teachers killed and injured in the shooting.

Cazares said that since the shooting, he hasn’t stopped thinking about his daughter, or what he could have done to save her.

“We haven’t really properly grieved because we’ve been fighting since day one,” Cazares said.  

Cazares said he hopes running for office will allow him to help prevent the next mass shooting.

“I promised my daughter we were going to fight,” Cazares said. “And that’s a promise I’m not ever going to break.”

Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.