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Parents of Uvalde shooting victim Lexi Rubio wade through grief and take action

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

We're starting this hour in Uvalde, Texas, where, like the rest of America, students and parents are starting a new school year. But unlike the rest of the country, they're returning to school for the first time since a shooting where 19 students and two teachers were killed in May. I spent last week talking to people in Uvalde about what the last three months have been like and what they're thinking now. Over the next few days, we're going to bring you their stories, including the story of Kimberly and Felix Rubio. I met them on a recent Sunday evening at the site of a special memorial for their daughter, Lexi Rubio.

KIMBERLY RUBIO: I have been so, like, on pins and needles about, like - that it was - everything was going to go smoothly that I almost didn't even want to tell anybody where it was until we were, like, here today, starting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's just so - yeah...

SUMMERS: Lexi was 10, and she was one of the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. And as this small town continues to grieve, murals are going up on the walls of downtown buildings. The victims' faces are larger than life, surrounded by the things they loved and the words they spoke to their families. The artists working on Lexi's mural projected an image of her on a cream-colored wall in a parking lot. And they started working.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAINT SPRAYING)

SUMMERS: Lexi's family watched from across the street. They looked up at the image of Lexi smiling back at them, surrounded by colorful flowers and butterflies.

K RUBIO: I'll see it when I run. I'll see it when I park here to go to work.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

K RUBIO: It's a beautiful building. Like, it's a beautiful building. You can see the tower behind.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yep.

SUMMERS: The day after we met the Rubios at the mural site, we visited them at their new home...

K RUBIO: Hi, come in.

SUMMERS: Hi. How are you?

...Where another image of Lexi stands out right when you walk through the front door.

K RUBIO: So we have Lexi's photo. The first night we stayed here, like, that was what Felix grabbed immediately from the house. This - Felix loves it. It's a softball. It says Lexi Rubio. And then there's pictures of her. This is the one where she's - it has her - she's in the dugout and has her hands on the fence. She's looking at us, gives us a little smile.

SUMMERS: I asked Felix and Kimberly to describe their daughter.

FELIX RUBIO: Lexi was a quiet child, shy, smart, appreciative of life and anything that comes her way. Her athletic ability - we were just seeing what was coming about from her.

K RUBIO: Competitive.

F RUBIO: Competitive, yeah, very competitive.

K RUBIO: She wanted to be the best at everything. And she was because she put in so much hard work.

SUMMERS: You said she was athletic. What sports did she play?

F RUBIO: She did softball, basketball. Those were her two main sports. And then I know - volleyball, that was something she was looking forward to.

SUMMERS: How have you all been doing these last three months? How have you been making your way through this?

K RUBIO: I feel like, personally, I've just kind of thrown myself into the activism role. I don't give myself much time to think of it. I really don't think I've accepted it, really.

SUMMERS: This summer, they attended rallies in Texas and met with state lawmakers, and they testified to Congress in Washington to call for more gun control measures, including a federal ban on assault-style weapons. At this point, Felix, who was wearing a T-shirt with Lexi's name and face on it, grew more quiet, and Kimberly answered most of the questions.

How has it been at home with your kids working through the fact that Lexi's not here?

K RUBIO: It's difficult. I feel like the kids have changed. It's - we're not the same. We're missing her. And so we're just - we're broken.

SUMMERS: You said that you've thrown yourself into the activism, and I know that you'd been a journalist in the past. What has it been like kind of stepping into that role and being kind of at the forefront of that activism? Why was that the impulse that you had following shooting?

K RUBIO: I just immediately after I thought about, one, my own children. I mean, we still have children here that we have to fight for. And then I just kept thinking about other moms, really. I don't want anybody to feel the way I feel.

SUMMERS: One of the reasons why we wanted to come here now is because everyone is preparing to start a new school year. And I wanted to ask about what that's been like for you and preparing your children to start a new school year. Are they going back in person?

K RUBIO: Oh, we have three that are going back in person for sure. I think it means something to them to kind of go back to their routine, to see their friends. And then our little one was also at Robb that day, so we signed him up for virtual. We're still back and forth on whether we're going to send him to school. I don't know what his reaction will be. So - but virtual is definitely a possibility for him.

SUMMERS: You've talked about what your kids want, but how are you all feeling about kids heading back to school?

K RUBIO: I mean, I don't think we'll ever feel comfortable with our kids being anywhere that isn't inside my home. I think about that a lot because - with school right now, but they'll go off - I mean, parades, concerts, a grocery store. Where are they safe?

SUMMERS: I'm sorry. That's just - it's a really sad situation that that's something you have to think - that any parent has to think about.

K RUBIO: I mean, that's why we chose this house. It's by the junior high, the high school, Flores. All of our kids will eventually be in this area. So if something ever happens again, we thought, well, they can run home. So when we were looking for a place to live, that's - location was priority.

SUMMERS: What have you heard so far from the school districts, from local leadership, about how things might look different at these schools and this upcoming year because of what happened at Robb?

K RUBIO: So we met with the superintendent and assistant superintendent and social worker so we could lay that - or they could lay that out for us. They did have a few things that day. The fences are obvious. That's going up. There will be a paid position, somebody who goes around each campus every morning and throughout the day, I think, to go check locks, not only to make sure that they are locked but to make sure there isn't anything wrong with the mechanism. And if it is, it will be put into the iPad in, like, an immediate maintenance order and that will go out and be fixed.

SUMMERS: It's a long list of changes, but you even said yourself you're not ever going to feel safe with your kids not being in your home. Is there more that you'd like to see them do that would make it even a half measure more comfortable for you as a mom to send them out there?

K RUBIO: I don't...

F RUBIO: I would say no, there's nothing you can do.

K RUBIO: Yeah. I mean, because you say there's a heavy police presence, but there was a heavy police presence that day. So I don't know that even if there was a threat, I don't feel comfortable that they could handle it. I mean, I guess to me, I would really like somebody monitoring the surveillance cameras. That could be the one thing for me. But again, I don't know that I'll ever feel comfortable, you know, if I'm not there or they're not with me.

SUMMERS: I want to ask you a little bit about the activism work that you've been doing. I know some people after violent events happen, there's - I feel like there's always these two schools of camp. There are people who say that it's not a moment for activism. It's not a moment for politics. And then there are people like you who immediately jumped into activism. Can you tell us a little bit about what it's been like for you and for your family to kind of jump into this role?

K RUBIO: It's been difficult because, you know, like, we don't even want to get out of bed some days. It's a lot. But it's also necessary. And I know that we would love to say that it isn't political, but it is. That's just - that's our country. So we need change. And that's just the way you go about it. So that's why we - you know, we've been in D.C. meeting with senators, just trying to let them know that while it is political, it doesn't have to be this, like, left, right thing. We all want commonsense gun laws. Like, just, that's what we want. If you'd just listen to your constituents, you would hear us.

SUMMERS: How do you want the world to remember Lexi? How would Lexi want us to remember her? And what would she want us to know about her?

K RUBIO: Lexi would have made a difference in this world. She was very into politics already at a young age. I know she would have made a difference. So it's not just us who lost someone. The world - the world lost her. She's a beautiful person. And we miss her a lot. This should have never happened. And she should be here. We all should be able to witness what she would have contributed to this world. You shouldn't have to hear it from me sitting on this table.

SUMMERS: I'm really sorry. I know that you mentioned to one of the producers that you had at one point considered leaving Uvalde, leaving Texas. What makes you stay?

K RUBIO: Lexi's here, so we're staying with her.

SUMMERS: The same day we met the Rubios, we saw some of their family at a prayer walk.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Let's pray for the schools, as lift our hands. Father, God, we come before you...

SUMMERS: On Sunday evenings, this group has been walking the grounds of Uvalde schools.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We realize that we cannot trust in man for security, Lord. That is why we are here before you this evening because...

SUMMERS: We followed them as they walked around the junior and senior high schools, some with hands raised, others singing...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing in Spanish).

SUMMERS: ...Praying for Uvalde's peace and safety.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing in Spanish).

SUMMERS: Tomorrow, we'll hear from two Uvalde parents who do not feel safe sending their children back to the classroom. Instead, they've decided to homeschool them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Amen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
Alejandra Marquez Janse
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.