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Uvalde families make last pleas for change before midterm elections

 Velma Lisa Duran, the sister of Uvalde school shooting victim Irma Garcia, speaks to Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke at a rally in Uvalde on November 2, 2022. She told O'Rourke she is supporting him, and enlisting her colleagues to so  as well.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
/
KUT
Velma Lisa Duran, the sister of Uvalde school shooting victim Irma Garcia, speaks to Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke at a rally in Uvalde on November 2, 2022. She told O'Rourke she is supporting him, and enlisting her colleagues to so as well.

Since the shooting at Robb Elementary School, a growing number of loved ones have registered to vote, and their sense of urgency is increasing.

With Election Day nearing, the families of those killed at Robb Elementary School in May in Uvalde are making one last push to convince their community — and people outside of it — that their vote could help prevent the next mass shooting.

They face an uphill battle in the gubernatorial race; Republican Gov. Greg Abbott continues to lead Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke in the polls, and many families have called on Abbott to restrict access to guns.

Still, Velma Lisa Duran feels a shakeup in this election can be possible.

”Our kids are in (sic) the ballot,” Duran told The Texas Newsroom last week. “I think of my boys that have to go to work, I think of myself as a teacher having to go.”

This election is personal for Duran. Her sister, Irma Garcia, was a teacher at Robb Elementary and one of 21 killed by an 18-year-old gunman.

The tragedy galvanized Duran to become more involved in politics.

“It does bother me that I was never that vocal and following whoever’s running and things like that,” Duran said. “But I feel like there’s a reason for everything, and there has to be change.”

Now, she’s vocal about her support for O’Rourke.

Duran is not the only victims’ family member to get involved in the midterms.

 A group of parents of some of the children killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde last May await the start of a rally with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke on November 2, 2022 in downtown Uvalde.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
/
KUT
A group of parents of some of the children killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde last May await the start of a rally with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke on November 2, 2022 in downtown Uvalde.

Since the shooting, a growing number of loved ones have registered to vote, and their sense of urgency is increasing. Their activism has brought them to Washington, D.C., and across Texas.

Last month, a group of family members traveled to Austin to hold a march in honor of the dead.

Jazmin Cazares, sister of 9-year-old victim Jacklyn, told the crowd they could have an impact on this election.

“I’m not old enough to vote, but most of you can, and I encourage you to do so, and vote responsibly,” Cazares said. “You can honor the 21 angels and others who have been taken from us too soon by gun violence.”

Her dad, Javier, is running for a county commission seat, challenging Mariano Pargas, who was the acting chief of police in Uvalde the day of the shooting.

Cazares and other family members of victims have called on Abbott — and the Legislature — to increase the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21. The Uvalde shooter bought his two weapons legally shortly after his 18th birthday.

Ronnie Garza, who currently serves on the Uvalde County Commission, praised the activism of the families.

“At the beginning I think some parents were kind of reluctant to make this a political issue,” Garza said. “But then they learned — they found out that laws have to be changed if we want to make our community safer.”

 Felicha Martinez, the mother of Uvalde school shooting victim Xavier Lopez, told Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke she was voting for him because she was "not fighting just for Xavier, I’m fighting for your future grandchild, I’m fighting for your child.” O'Rourke visited the ofrenda of Lopez on November 2, 2022 at Hillcrest Cemetery in Uvalde.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
/
KUT
Felicha Martinez, the mother of Uvalde school shooting victim Xavier Lopez, told Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke she was voting for him because she was "not fighting just for Xavier, I’m fighting for your future grandchild, I’m fighting for your child.” O'Rourke visited the ofrenda of Lopez on November 2, 2022 at Hillcrest Cemetery in Uvalde.


However some in Uvalde are skeptical of the families who have waded into politics.

Jacqueline Schlichting, who owns a ranch service business in Uvalde County, questioned the families’ motives.

“They are being used by politicians,'' Schlichting told The Texas Newsroom last week after casting a ballot for Abbott. “What they are being used for is to get it in their heads that this was something that could have been avoided had there been more gun control.”

Others say the shooting was a wake up call.

Marisela Sanchez and Crispín Reyna, a couple in their thirties who have children, are paying attention to local Uvalde politics now. They're researching who to choose for the county commission and other down-ballot races.

“Because now we get to see who really cares about the community and who doesn’t,” Sanchez said. “We are not the kind of people to be shouting and acting crazy.”

Reyna added that the community has not necessarily been political in recent times.

“But now, everybody is,” he said.

KUT's Maya Fawaz contributed to this report.
Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán reports on Texas politics and government for The Texas Newsroom.