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UVALDE, Texas – Banners and restaurant signs still say “Uvalde strong” and “praying for Uvalde” in the south Texas town of about 15,000 people.
One month ago, on May 24, a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
The memorial in the town square grows by the day with a consistent flow of people dropping off flowers, stuffed animals and cards.
The father of one of the victims says he spends time in his daughter’s bedroom every day and talks to her.
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“I talk to her like she’s still there, and it helps. It really does,” said Javier Cazares, father of Jacklyn Cazares, or “Jackie” as most people knew her. “I still go in there and say good morning, and I say goodnight. I mean, in my mind, she’s still there.”
Nine-year-old Jackie was a student at Robb Elementary.
She was in class the day the gunman shot up the school.
June 10 would have been Jackie’s 10th birthday.
“Smart little girl. She’s feisty. She’s a little go-getter,” Javier Cazares said. “She’ll give her shirt off her back if she could to help somebody out.”
Jackie loved to sing and dance, too, and she had big dreams for her future.
“Man, you know, she loved animals. She wanted to become a vet,” Cazares said. “And one of her dreams was to go to Paris. So that’s something that we want to do, you know, in her spirit, in her honor.”
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It’s a tough road ahead.
“We go back and look at pictures, videos, and that makes us happy,” Cazares added. “Then we have those times that we get that little punch in the chest, you know, that you can’t help but cry.”
But Cazares says he and his family are fighting every day to heal.
“It’d be different if she had cancer or something, getting to know that one day she might pass, but this was a way she was really taken from us. That’s a different story, and it hurts harder,” Cazares said. “But we’re strong, and we’re trying to get through it. And this is going to be very hard, and I can’t say we’re going to stop breathing. We can’t. But our baby’s gone.”
The family liked to paint rocks together and hide them like a scavenger hunt.
They will keep the tradition alive but will now leave the rocks at Jackie’s grave site.
Cazares’ other daughter Jazmin is a rising senior in high school and has started to speak more publicly about the incident.
She spoke at a city council meeting Tuesday night when the mayor and council denied Pete Arredondo’s leave of absence request.
Arredondo was the officer in charge at the school May 24. He was elected to city council less than three weeks before the shooting, and he was placed on administrative leave from his school district police chief position Wednesday night.
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At the council meeting, Jazmin Cazares said of Arredondo: “How am I supposed to quit grieving, especially knowing he did nothing to protect my sister, my cousin, her friends and teachers?”
She pointed out Arredondo’s absence from the meeting.
“But you chose this job knowing you could be in the line of fire. These kids didn’t choose to be in the line of fire,” Jazmin Cazares said. “Remember my face. Because we will be at every city council meeting until something changes.”
Donna Torres, who has lived in Uvalde all 53 years of her life, was also at the meeting.
She and a group of others have been holding benefits and making meals for families.
“It still affects us. They’re babies. They’re Uvalde’s babies,” Torres said.
Kim Hammond moved to Uvalde nine months ago and knows someone who lost a child in the shooting.
“They were failed by everybody. Everybody. Not just in this community. Not just in this state, but in this nation. They were failed,” Hammond said.
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She suggests parents go to their children’s schools and check the doors and locks for themselves.
One mother came up with her own idea for her seven-year-old daughter Angelina.
“She asked me if it happened in our school. I told her, ‘You play dead, and if there’s not any blood on you, you put it on,’” Sandra Villanueva said.
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She says she showed her daughter how to take slow breaths to appear dead.
They drove 45 minutes from Carrizo Springs, Texas, to see the memorial, dropping off a stuffed cow and bunny.
“We have to give them the honor and show them that we care about them,” Angelina said.