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A year after the Uvalde school massacre, victims' families share their stories

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Today marks one year since a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It took police more than an hour to enter the school and stop the gunman. At least 17 others were injured. The shooting shifted the community off its axis. It reignited national activism and debates about gun laws, and more reflections on this tragedy will continue.

SUMMERS: Right now, we want to take a moment to reflect on the lives lost that day. Three families who lost their children took some time to share the memories of their daughters with NPR in their own words.

KIMBERLY RUBIO: I don't think we have to go out of our way to remember Lexi.

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RUBIO: My name is Kimberly Rubio, and my daughter is Lexi Rubio. I think just from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep and again in our dreams, she's just everywhere. Lexi's a sweetheart. She is our youngest girl, but she's also a big sister, always wanting to keep the peace at the house. Kind of quiet but, you know, when she had something to say, she made that known. I would tell the kids not to race from the car to their grandma's house to the front door. But one time, my little one - he did it. And I didn't say something, and I let him win. And she turned around. And she was like, but we're not supposed to race, and it doesn't matter if he's little. And she was right. That's Lexi. She wanted everything to be fair.

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ANA CORONADO: My name is Ana Coronado, and my daughter was Maite Rodriguez. Any time she'd see a cat, a dog that was a stray, she would look at me, and I would tell her, I don't think we can take any more animals home. She had two hamsters. She had several dogs, a cat. She even tried to keep ants inside the house, but I told her that she couldn't keep those in here. She was just a normal 10-year-old little girl who was going to be the world's next greatest marine biologist.

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VERONICA MATA: My name is Veronica Mata, and Tess Marie Mata was my daughter.

JERRY MATA: I'm Jerry Mata, and Tess Mata was my daughter.

V MATA: When we first brought her home, she cried and cried and cried and cried. And the doctor told us that she was going to be a very energetic little girl. And I was like, I don't know how you get that just from hearing them cry. But sure enough, Tess was just all over the place.

J MATA: She would just start dancing on her own. Just out of the blue, she saw I was, you know, having a bad day at work, and she'd pop up and just start doing her Twitter dances and stuff. And I was like, Tess, really? She goes, yeah, Dad, check this out. I got a new move (laughter) - you know? - or start doing cartwheels or backflips. And it's like, you're going to hurt yourself. No, I'm not, Dad, you know? So she would always put a smile on your face.

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CORONADO: One of my favorite stories about Maite has to be - I think it was 2020, when, you know, everything was shut down because of COVID. She had really long, black hair. She said, Mama, why don't you cut my hair? And I said, because I'm not a barber. I don't know how to cut hair. And we don't have scissors to cut hair either. So she ran somewhere in the house, came back out with these, like, crafting scissors, you know? I cut her hair, and I'm so glad that I did cut her hair because that experience with her - I cherish it very much, and I keep it close to my heart. And she was so happy as I was cutting her hair. And jeez, did I cut her hair crooked. Be - but, you know, she loved it.

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RUBIO: Lexi and me hate shopping, and it was noticeable during the summer when we were preparing for the next school year. We would go and, honestly, I would just pick out a few T-shirts and shorts for her, and she didn't even really want to try them on. And then me and her would try to entertain ourselves while the rest of the children took hours and hours shopping.

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J MATA: Tess - she was very competitive - so competitive that, when she was pitching and she couldn't get those batters, you know, to strike out, like, she would literally cry and just - because she would get so upset at herself and walk into the dugout, like, mad. The coach would tell us, you know, calm down. It's OK, you know?

She always wanted to do a family night - you know, sleep in the living room. We put our mattresses out there so we can spend the night out there in the family room, watch movies all night long. And, you know, we'd make popcorn pickle (ph), and she was the one to push that all the time, you know? And that's something that's always stayed in my mind about how she kept us real close as - you know, as a family, which we still are. But it's just - you miss that puzzle, you know?

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RUBIO: Lexi loves to go out to eat. Olive Garden's her favorite restaurant. She's a bit of a foodie. She's always asking for ice cream. She's a big dessert fan. After we have food or after school, she always felt like she needed something sweet. She liked to sneak in some chocolates in the morning. I didn't mind. And now I'm glad I never said anything - just let her be. She only got 10 years to enjoy those things, so...

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CORONADO: I would like other people to remember Maite as a fighter. She never gave up. She (crying) helped her classmates to the very end.

V MATA: We will go in and out of her bedroom throughout the days. We always had her lights on at nighttime 'cause she didn't want to sleep in the dark. So Tess - she always had a little night light on. And we still turn it on every night, and then we turn it off in the mornings just like we would do when she was here with us.

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V MATA: We just want to make sure that nobody forgets who Tess was.

J MATA: We just want to let everybody know that we're going to keep fighting to the very end until we get change here in Texas.

V MATA: We are now her voice. We will continue fighting until the day that we're with her.

SHAPIRO: That was Veronica Mata and Jerry Mata, Tess' parents; Kimberly Rubio, Lexi's mother; and Ana Coronado, Maite's mother. Our thanks to them and to all the families in Uvalde who have shared their stories over the last year.

SUMMERS: The victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting are fourth-grade students Makenna Lee Elrod...

SHAPIRO: Layla Salazar...

SUMMERS: Maranda Mathis...

SHAPIRO: Nevaeh Bravo...

SUMMERS: Jose Manuel Flores...

SHAPIRO: Xavier Lopez...

SUMMERS: Rojelio Torres...

SHAPIRO: Eliahna "Ellie" Amyah Garcia...

SUMMERS: Eliahna A. Torres...

SHAPIRO: Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez...

SUMMERS: Jacklyn "Jackie" Cazares...

SHAPIRO: Alithia Ramirez...

SUMMERS: Uziyah Garcia...

SHAPIRO: Jayce Carmelo Luevanos...

SUMMERS: Jailah Nicole Silguero...

SHAPIRO: Amerie Jo Garza...

SUMMERS: Maite Rodriguez...

SHAPIRO: Tess Marie Mata...

SUMMERS: Lexi Rubio...

SHAPIRO: And teachers Irma Garcia...

SUMMERS: And Eva Mireles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.