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‘All reasonable asks’: Uvalde mother and families continue push for gun reform with new nonprofit

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Patricia Lim
/
KUT
The father and mother of Alexandria "Lexi" Rubio give a speech about their experiences as parents of a child who was killed during the Robb Elementary School shooting.

For Kimberly Rubio and dozens of other families forever scarred by the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, moving on from May 24 is simply unthinkable.

Recent events – such as the suspension of the Uvalde school district’s police force and a new report from the New York Times challenging assertions made by the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety – continue upon the ongoing calls made by the families for accountability.

And then other occurrences, such as the retirement of Uvalde schools superintendent Hal Harrell, point to a growing divide within the tragedy-stricken community itself.

But amid the lingering pain and grief, the Uvalde families continue to organize for change. As part of their ongoing push for gun reform, Rubio and others have founded a new nonprofit, Lives Robbed, which she hopes will help heal the community.

Rubio – whose daughter, Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, was among those lost in the tragic shooting – spoke with Texas Standard about the growing divide within Uvalde, their new nonprofit, her ongoing push for changes to state and federal gun laws, and the memories she holds onto of Lexi. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What was your reaction to hearing the news of Superintendent Hal Harrell’s resignation?

Kimberly Rubio: I was actually a little shocked. We did not call for Hal Harrell to resign or retire. And I instantly knew that we were going to get some pushback for that. And I was right.

When you say pushback, what do you mean? If you weren’t calling for his resignation, what sort of pushback did you get?

From the community. He is a beloved member of the community. And, as you can see from Monday’s board meeting, people were angry and they directed that anger at the families.

In what respect? Were they blaming the families for Harrell’s decision to retire? 

Yes, I believe some of the signs read “We’re tired of the blame game.” That we were seeking money and just bitter. It’s hard. It was very hard to attend the meeting, especially because we haven’t had a lot of community support at the board meetings, at the city council meetings. So to see people finally show up, but it’s not for you or your 21 victims … that’s difficult.

What is it that Uvalde families are demanding when it comes to accountability? What do you want to see? 

With regard to the school district, the first step was to suspend the police force that they have, pending investigation. And then I want to be kind of brought along through that process. I want to know where they are in the investigation. I want everything revealed to the parents before it’s released to the public. I want those who failed to act, who failed our students, to be fired. With the superintendent, now that Hal Harrell is retiring, I want to be brought along through the process of the search for a new superintendent, and I don’t think that those are heavy asks.

I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet, but The New York Times released a video analysis of what happened in Robb Elementary and noted that while DPS singled out the school police chief for blame for what happened with the delay in getting to the shooter, a Times visual investigation found that scores of trained officers took many of the same steps. What do you make of that, and how are you trying to process this? 

I haven’t watched the full video. That’s just too difficult for me. But I have known that there’s more to it than just the school district police. I think this is just our first step because our kids are still with this district. They are in school now. But our next step is to demand more from the city of Uvalde as well.

At the state level, officials have tried to make changes, including testing the doors and security at schools across the state. On that level, are you satisfied in the changes that Texas has announced in the wake of the attack at Uvalde? 

Absolutely not. I don’t think Texas is at all prepared for the next mass shooting. And given that we don’t want to make stricter gun laws, I imagine that we’ll be doing this again, and it’ll be some other family devastated and broken.

» Texas Standard special report: ‘The end of last year will be with us’: Are Texas schools any safer since the Uvalde shooting?

Do you feel like state leaders are hearing what you and others are asking for? 

I think they’re hearing us, but they don’t want to act. Personally, I’ve met with our two senators, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn. I’ve met with Gov. Greg Abbott. I guess our next steps are just hoping and praying for change come election.

Tell us about your new nonprofit and what it is you’re hoping to accomplish. 

Lives Robbed is formed with four families. You know, we had been at the forefront of activism going to D.C. trips, and we just decided that we needed to start something locally. We want to raise awareness about what we’ve gone through and help others navigate this process when it happens to them. We want to make this community better. We want to make this nation better.

That’s why we’re calling for gun reform at the federal level. We want a complete ban on assault weapons. We’re still working on that language because I think people hear that and get really scared. That’s technically what the bill is right now, but it’s more of a manufacturer freeze than it is taking people’s weapons. Those who own assault weapons, those will be grandfathered in. I also, at the state level, want to raise the age to be able to purchase these weapons from 18 to 21. I want red flag laws and increase background checks. Again, all reasonable asks.

Do you think Texans are still thinking enough about Uvalde as the election approaches? Clearly it’s on your mind all the time. But what about people outside of Uvalde? What’s your sense of that?

You know, I’m worried that, like all mass shootings, once the media attention leaves, it kind of leaves people’s minds and we become complacent until it happens again. But my hope is that that’s not the case, that Uvalde is one of those final straws where people are fed up and want change.

I want to talk a little bit, if we can, about Lexi, who sounds like an absolutely beautiful little girl. Fourth-grader. I understand she wanted to earn a softball scholarship to St. Mary’s someday. Is that right? 

Yes, sir. She was a very intelligent little girl. We never had to ask her to do her homework; she just would do it. Aced everything. Had to help me sometimes with my homework. Super smart, very competitive. She played softball. She played basketball. She was looking forward to playing volleyball when she got to junior high.

And she thought a lot about the future and what that looked like. And she wanted to earn a softball scholarship to attend St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. That’s the university I attend. She wanted to major in math; I’ll never understand why. And one day, she wanted to attend law school.

I know she mastered the math portion of the STAAR test, so pretty sharp, huh? 

Yeah, she’s very smart. Very smart girl.

And reciting jokes to each other in the living room, one of those wonderful memories, see who would be the first to laugh – one of her favorite activities.

Yes. I love these little games that my children come up with. Just almost, you don’t need anything else, right? You don’t have to have a board game. We just have each other. As long as we have each other, we can have fun.

Those memories are so vivid that she sort of seems right there, I would imagine, sometimes for you. I know it’s hard to communicate the sense of loss and the pain that one feels when someone is gone. I wonder how you are doing after all of this. I mean, this must have been a really, really difficult time for you and the rest of your family. 

Yes. It’s extremely difficult. Nobody prepares you to bury your child. We’re broken, and the damage is irreparable. I just try to stay busy because I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts. I don’t want to think about it too much. I don’t see how people live decades without their children. It’s unimaginable.

Kimberly, do you have the support that you need there in the community? 

You know, we have people reach out. We have each other, the families, those that are injured. We have a good support system. But I do think that there is a divide now within the community: Those who want to forget – they can forget, and they want to move on already – and those of us that will always be left on May 24.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on texasstandard.org and KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.