Uvalde victims' relatives speak out for Democratic candidates, saying massacre made them activists

"It has taken me some time to step out and be Tess' voice," one mom said.

October 5, 2022, 8:07 PM

Eleven relatives of the victims and survivors of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting spoke out on Wednesday in support of Democratic candidates for local office -- saying the elementary school massacre had moved them to activism.

At a news conference, those 11 as well as two pastors and one of the shooting survivors joined lawmakers and candidates in urging people to vote for Democrats and support stricter gun laws.

Several of those who spoke had been relatively quiet on the subject until now.

"It has taken me some time to step out and be Tess' voice," said Veronica Mata, whose 10-year-old daughter was killed at Robb Elementary School in May. "Not because I was scared or because I didn't know what to say, but because the life I once had was ripped apart."

On Wednesday, Mata stood alongside other families who have already been agitating for change in the wake of the mass shooting.

Ten-year-old victim Uziyah Garcia's guardians have been camping out in front of the school district's office since September, they have said, to demand school safety reform.

And the families of victims Lexi Rubio, 10, and 9-year-old Jackie Cazares have already traveled to Washington to advocate for new gun laws.

Others in Uvalde said Wednesday that it took them longer to decide to speak up.

"Here we are 19 weeks since our lives were completely destroyed by gun violence and not a single effort has been made by the current governor to prevent this from ever happening again," Marissa Lozano said. Her sister, teacher Irma Garcia, was killed at Robb Elementary.

John Lira, the Democratic nominee for Texas' 23rd District, which includes Uvalde?, joined the families on Wednesday and said that while he hadn't yet worked with them, he felt now was the time to stand at their side.

"I've been very reluctant to reach out to the families of the survivors and the children who did not make it because I did not want it to seem disingenuous," Lira said. "I wanted it to happen naturally."

The Uvalde residents advocated for raising the purchasing age for a firearm from 18 to 21; implementing universal background checks; and enacting so-called "red flag" laws to empower authorities to take weapons from people deemed a danger to the community.

PHOTO: Kimberly Rubio, the mother of Lexi Rubio, spoke in support of Democratic Candidate Beto O'Rourke this morning at a press conference in Uvalde. Earlier this month she appeared in some of his campaign ads.
Kimberly Rubio, the mother of Lexi Rubio, spoke in support of Democratic Candidate Beto O'Rourke this morning at a press conference in Uvalde. Earlier this month she appeared in some of his campaign ads.

Some of those who spoke, like Kimberly Rubio -- mom to victim Lexi Rubio -- explicitly endorsed Democrat Beto O'Rourke against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott said on Saturday, in a debate with O'Rourke, that he doesn't support red flag laws or raising the purchasing age for guns. Abbott had previously suggested state lawmakers should consider a red flag law but drew backlash.

He argued at Saturday's debate that the court would overturn raising the purchasing age for guns, though O'Rourke noted that Florida had done something similar after the Parkland school mass shooting in 2018.

Texas Democrats, including O'Rourke, have promised gun policies that align with the families' demands. (At Saturday's debate, O'Rourke sidestepped one of his own past positions: whether he would seek to confiscate people's assault-style weapons.)

Many of the Uvalde shooting families, including the Rubios, are featured in O'Rourke's latest ad campaign, which rolled out at the beginning of the month.

"Ask yourself which candidates prioritize the lives of our most vulnerable constituents: our children. Vote for these people," Kimberly Rubio said on Wednesday.

In a statement to ABC News, Abbott's press secretary said that he has met with many of the Uvalde families and heard their stories.

"Governor Abbott continues to work on solutions focused on the root of the problem: mental health," spokesperson Renae Eze, in an email. Abbott said at Saturday's debate that he wanted to focus on "what is really ailing our communities" -- such as mental health issues.

Eze, his spokesperson, pointed out that during his administration Texas has spent $105 million on school security, $5 million on a resiliency center in Uvalde and more than $1 million on trauma-informed care in Uvalde schools.

The mind of one Texas legislator, though, was changed in the wake of the massacre. Of his views on raising the minimum gun-purchasing age, state Democratic Rep. Tracy King said at Wednesday's event. "To speak candidly with you, I haven't always felt this way … but that was before May 24. Because on May 24, a law that required a young child to wait until they are 21 would have made a difference."

One person who hasn't wavered is Javier Cazares. For months he has called for tightening gun laws on behalf of his daughter Jackie, who was killed at Robb Elementary. He said Wednesday that his activism is deeply personal.

"I promised [Jackie] that day that I was going to fight for her, her friends, future generations, the survivors," Cazares said. "That's what I'm going to do. I have a big fight ahead and I'm not going to stop. That was my baby girl."

Uvalde:365 is a continuing ABC News series reported from Uvalde and focused on the Texas community and how it forges on in the shadow of tragedy.