‘One Year In: Uvalde’ — The Legacy

This story is part of KSAT’s interactive project “One Year In: Uvalde,” which honors victims and survivors of the Robb Elementary School shooting on May 24, 2022.

The families of those killed have bonded together on the path to healing. They’ve created a unique form of love they never expected, and they’ve found ways to honor their loved ones through scholarships, memorials, runs and tattoos.

It’s their way of keeping the 21 victims’ legacies alive, both within Uvalde and outside its borders.

Families formed Lives Robbed, a nonprofit organization that’s fighting for changes in gun legislation. They’ve rallied at the Texas Capitol and in Washington D.C. with the goal of bringing awareness to gun reform and school safety.

“Really I just want us to share our story and make change, and we’re stronger together,” said Kimberly Rubio, mother of Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio and president of Lives Robbed. “I see the potential, and I know where we’re headed and what we can do with it.”

Families said they’ve traveled to Austin weekly throughout the 88th Texas Legislature.

A flurry of gun-, school- and safety-related bills were introduced in the session, but they were particularly vocal about House Bill 2744, which would have raised the age limit from 18 to 21 to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles. The Uvalde gunman had just turned 18 years old when he legally purchased two AR-style rifles from a local store, one of which was used in the shooting.

The bill was voted out of the House Select Committee on Community Safety on May 8, but it was left off the House agenda by the next day’s deadline, effectively blocking the proposal’s path.

Between dealing with grief and pushing for reform, the families say there’s no chance of slowing down.

“Sometimes you can’t describe it. You’re just tired, you’re just tired. But deep down inside you know there’s no way that we would stop,” said Gloria Cazares, Jackie’s mother and treasurer of Lives Robbed.

“There’s days when it’s hard to get out of bed… it’s important because our girls meant the world to us and we’re going to continue until we get what they deserve,” added Veronica Mata, Tess Mata’s mother and advocacy director for Lives Robbed.

Berlinda Arreola, Kimberly Rubio, Gloria Cazares and Veronica Mata of Lives Robbed speak with KSAT. (KSAT)

Berlinda Arreola, Amerie’s step-grandmother and secretary for Lives Robbed, said groups like theirs have become all too common because mass shootings aren’t a rare horror in the U.S. Arreola said they want to join forces with other groups to share their stories and influence change.

They hope, someday, that they won’t need the group, and that enough gun reform will happen so they can go their separate ways. It’s the group that should have never been formed, for the tragedy that should have never happened, they said.

Brett Cross called it “odd” because though he hates why they met, he can’t imagine fighting without them.

“I wish I didn’t have to meet these people, but I’m happy to have them in my life,” he said.

Their new reality has also taken them places they never expected.

Jazmin Cazares, Jackie’s sister, said she never saw herself participating in rallies, activism, politics, or testifying in front of lawmakers. She also never saw herself stepping into a sister role for the siblings of other victims.

“It’s things that I didn’t know I needed that I get from other families,” she said.

Jazmin Cazares, sister of Uvalde victim Jackie Cazares, speaks with KSAT at the Uvalde town square. (KSAT)

One of those siblings, Faith Mata, wants to continue her sister Tess’ legacy through her career.

Faith Mata graduated from Texas State University on May 12 and wants to help families of victims affected by gun violence. Her ultimate goal is to become an FBI crime victim specialist, the type of person who came to the aid of her family.

If I could help somebody at least get through a little bit of that pain, it’s helping me with my pain as well,” she said.

These families have grieved, rallied and testified together, and now they are permanently linked through their loss.

Rubio, Gloria Cazares and Veronica Mata decided — on a whim — to get tattoos to feel closer to their daughters, and each other. They each have three hearts in lavender, sage green and yellow on their wrists.

Tattoos have become a symbol of remembrance for them; if they can’t see their loved ones in person, they can look to their skin for comfort.

Amerie’s portrait has a place on her step-father’s arm, and her art has a place on her mother’s.

“It means a lot to me, at the same time it’s kind of hard to think that it’s there,” Garza said. “I hate that I have to look up and see pictures of her everywhere when she should just be right there.”

Torres has a sunflower and a butterfly to represent Eliahna, and Nikki Cross has a lion and a cub since Uziyah, “Uzi,” was a Leo.

Brett Cross has a tattoo of a bullet wound on his spine, because that’s what Uziyah was left with, he said. He uses it to illustrate what Uziyah went through.

He also has Spiderman, Uziyah’s favorite comic character, on his arm.

Uziyah wanted to be like Spiderman, too — a superhero in his own right, someone who helped others. He wanted to be a police officer, Brett Cross said.

Spiderman’s hand signal is reversed to the “I love you” sign, one he gave his parents every morning.

“As much as I hate that I couldn’t protect him that day, I feel like he’s here protecting me because whenever it … starts getting real bad, I can look down and … it’s a part of me,” Brett Cross said.

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