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It's been 2 years since a gunman killed 19 students and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today marks two years since a gunman began shooting in two classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. He killed 19 elementary students and two teachers. Today, the city is divided. Some families want change, others want to move on. From Uvalde, Texas Public Radio's Kayla Padilla brings us stories of two families not ready to move on.

KAYLA PADILLA, BYLINE: Caitlyne Gonzales was only 10 years old when a gunman entered her school and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in the classrooms across from her. One of the 19 children killed was her best friend, 9-year-old Jackie Cazares.

CAITLYNE GONZALES: I met her at school. And I would always just talk to her at school. She was always so nice to everybody.

PADILLA: In the weeks following the shooting, Caitlyne and her mom, Gladys Gonzalez, began attending rallies to help advocate for gun control legislation. The Gonzalez and Cazares families knew each other before the shooting. On this day, Jackie's mom, Gloria Cazares, and her 19-year-old daughter Jazmin were cleaning Jackie's grave ahead of the two-year mark.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

PADILLA: Since the shooting, they've pushed for gun reforms in Texas, including so far failed efforts to raise the minimum gun purchase age to 21. Jazmin says it's heartbreaking to see her sister's best friend, now 12 years old, become an activist at such a young age.

JAZMIN CAZARES: I can't imagine the things she's done and seen as not even a teenager yet. The experience of the shooting and fighting for her friends afterwards, it's absolutely heartbreaking.

PADILLA: Echoing other mass shootings, the phrase Uvalde Strong was adopted right after the killings to promote strength and unity in the small city of 15,000. It was painted on sides of buildings and printed on T-shirts. But Jazmin Cazares says, two years later, many have lost interest in seeking accountability for the botched police response. Some, she says, even started seeing the more activist-oriented families as, quote, "troublemakers."

JAZMIN CAZARES: Slowly after that, when we started getting into, like, firearms safety and gun violence prevention is where the divide really happened and just even more divided than there was before the shooting.

PADILLA: Local activists say they understand where the apathy comes from. Many here in this majority Latino community carry the weight of trying to help their children process their trauma while also trying to put food on the table, and there's limited access to mental health and other support resources. Twelve-year-old Caitlyne and her mom, Gladys Gonzalez, say they've cycled through multiple therapists.

CAITLYNE: I had a counselor - counselors. We're counselor hoppers.

GLADYS GONZALEZ: (Laughter) Caitlyne, I've never heard that.

CAITLYNE: Counselor hoppers because I had one, she was virtual, but it was only for, like, 20 minutes.

PADILLA: A settlement this week between families of the victims and the city and county of Uvalde includes pledges to increase mental health services. The combined $4 million agreement also includes training and other reforms to the Uvalde Police Department. The families this week also filed suit against 92 Texas state troopers who were part of the botched police response. More than 370 federal, state and local officers converged on the school but waited more than 70 minutes before confronting and killing the shooter. At the event announcing the settlement and lawsuit, Jackie Cazares' father, Javier, addressed the community.

JAVIER CAZARES: On the way over here, I saw the sticker which I see everywhere, Uvalde Strong. If that was the case, this room should be filled and then some, showing their support.

PADILLA: Javier Cazares added, quote, "it's been an unbearable two years."

For NPR News, I'm Kayla Padilla in Uvalde, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERLAND COOPER'S "HOLM SOUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kayla Padilla
[Copyright 2024 Texas Public Radio]