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UVALDE, Texas – Banners and restaurant signs still say “strong Uvalde” and “pray for Uvalde” in the South Texas town of about 15,000 people.
A month ago, on May 24, a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Primary School in Uvalde.
The memorial in the town square is growing day by day with a steady stream of people laying flowers, stuffed animals and cards.
The father of one of the victims says he spends time every day in his daughter’s room and talks to her.
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“I talk to her like she’s still there, and that helps. She really is,” said Javier Cazares, father of Jacklyn Cazares, or “Jackie” as most people knew her. “I always go there and say hello, and say goodnight. I mean, in my mind, she’s always there.”
Nine-year-old Jackie was a student at Robb Elementary.
She was in class the day the shooter shot at the school.
June 10 would have been Jackie’s 10th birthday.
“A smart little girl. She’s fiery. She’s a bit of a go-getter,” said Javier Cazares. “She’ll give her shirt off her back if she could to help someone.”
Jackie also loved to sing and dance, and she had big dreams for her future.
“Man, you know, she loved animals. She wanted to be a veterinarian,” Cazares said. “And one of his dreams was to go to Paris. So that’s something we want to do, you know, in his spirit, in his honor.”
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It is a difficult road to travel.
“We go back and look at photos, videos, and that makes us happy,” Cazares added. “Then we have those moments where we get that little punch in the chest, you know, that you can’t help but cry.”
But Cazares says he and his family fight every day to heal.
“It would be different if she had cancer or something, learning that one day she might die, but that’s one way she was really taken from us. That’s another story, and it hurts more “Cazares said. “But we’re strong and we’re trying to get through this. And it’s going to be very difficult, and I can’t say we’re going to stop breathing. We can’t. But our baby is gone.”
The family liked to paint rocks together and hide them as a treasure hunt.
They will carry on the tradition but will now leave the rocks on Jackie’s grave.
Cazares’ other daughter, Jazmin, is an up and coming high schooler and has begun to speak more publicly about the incident.
She spoke at a city council meeting on Tuesday night when the mayor and council rejected Pete Arredondo’s leave request.
Arredondo was the officer in charge of the school on May 24. He was elected to city council less than three weeks before the shooting and was placed on administrative leave from his job as school district police chief Wednesday night.
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During the council meeting, Jazmin Cazares said of Arredondo: “How am I supposed to stop crying, especially knowing that he did nothing to protect my sister, my cousin, her friends and her teachers?”
She pointed out Arredondo’s absence from the meeting.
“But you chose this job knowing you might be in the line of fire. These kids didn’t choose to be in the line of fire,” said Jazmin Cazares. “Remember my face. Because we’ll be at every town council meeting until something changes.”
Donna Torres, who lived in Uvalde for the 53 years of her life, was also present at the meeting.
She and a group of others organized performances and prepared meals for the 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 failed by everyone. Everyone. Not just in this community. Not just in this state, but in this nation. They failed,” Hammond said.
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She suggests parents go to their children’s schools and check the doors and locks for themselves.
A mother had her own idea for her seven-year-old daughter Angelina.
“She asked me if it had happened in our school. I told her: ‘You play dead, and if there is no blood on you, you put it on,'” Sandra Villanueva said. .
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She says she showed her daughter how to breathe slowly to appear dead.
They drove 45 minutes from Carrizo Springs, Texas to see the memorial, dropping off a stuffed cow and rabbit.
“We have to give them the honor and show them that we care about them,” Angelina said.