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Friday, July 1, 2022

Victim Uvalde’s sister calls for tougher gun laws in Texas

JIM VERTUNO and JAMIE STANGLE

Austin, Texas ( Associated Press) — Long before sunrise Thursday, Jazmine Cazares sat on her sister’s bed and mourned the 9-year-old girl who was killed in a rampage at Uvalde’s school a month ago.

The purple-streaked teen then embarked on a four-hour drive to the Texas Capitol, where she tearfully pleaded with lawmakers to pass tougher gun laws and asked why so many security measures hadn’t worked.

“I shouldn’t be here right now. I should be at home watching a movie with my sister,” she said, sobbing. “I’m here begging you guys to do something or change something because the people who were supposed to guard her at school didn’t, they failed.”

Her sister Jacklyn, a determined and compassionate girl who dreamed of going to Paris and becoming a veterinarian, was one of 19 children shot to death at Robb Elementary School on May 24, before police rushed into the classroom and killed the perpetrator. Two teachers also died.

Massacres and a string of recent massacres in the US have rekindled debate about gun laws, school safety and how to stop the violence. In Texas, lawmakers have responded to several mass shootings in recent years by making it easier to carry weapons rather than suppress.

Jazmine’s testimony before a committee of lawmakers considering how to prevent mass shootings came as Congress moved closer to passing its most far-reaching gun violence bill in decades, and the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling saying, that Americans have the right to carry firearms in public.

But all that mattered to a 17-year-old girl preparing to enter her senior year of high school was to do something to make schools safer. She said that she has been active shooting since she was in kindergarten.

“It’s terrible not to know if it’s true or not every time we lockdown. And then go back to school next year?” she said. “Going to school should not be the solution. But this. I’m in my senior year, that’s all. Can I survive?

Cazares told lawmakers they can honor the victims by passing gun background checks and “red flag laws” that allow guns to be seized from people at extreme risk of harming themselves or others.

The shooter from Uvalde was a former student, Salvador Ramos, who, a few days after he turned 18, bought an AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle that he used in the attack.

“There should be absolutely no reason why this killer could have had access to firearms,” said Cazares, who later said she knew committee members were listening when she saw them cry.

“I felt it. It seemed sincere,” she said.

The Republican-controlled Texas legislature has lifted gun restrictions over the past decade, even as the state has seen mass shootings since 2018 that have killed more than 85 people.

The state does not require a permit to carry a long gun like the one used in Uvalde and allows 18-year-olds to buy it. Last year, lawmakers allowed anyone aged 21 and over to carry a handgun in public without a license, background check, or training.

Jazmine Cazares told lawmakers she revised the school’s safety rules in the aftermath of the shooting, noting a list of demands that failed to stop the shooter, including that teachers were told to keep doors locked at all times.

“How, when some of those classroom doors wouldn’t lock?” she said, as family members sat behind her wearing Jacklyn T-shirts with the words “Forever in our hearts.”

Her family’s grief, she says, is exacerbated by the realization that some of what happened at Robb’s elementary school could have been prevented.

Her younger sister, she said, loved to sing and dance and “was one of the sweetest souls anyone has ever met.”

Jacklyn and her cousin Annabelle Rodriguez were best friends, part of a tight-knit quintet of classmates. All five were killed in the shootout.

Immediately after Jazmine testified, the woman who lost her parents in the 1991 Killeen, Texas shooting that killed two dozen people told the committee that waiting periods for gun sales were “useless” and that the zones, free from weapons must be eliminated.

“Let’s be clear that a gun is just a tool. It is a tool that can be used to kill a family, but it is a tool that can be used to protect a family,” Susanne Hupp said.

Hupp, a former Republican lawmaker, said she was invited to speak to the committee by one of its co-chairs.

After Hupp spoke, Jacklyn’s father, Javier Cazares, followed her into the hallway and they shook hands and briefly embraced.

“There is a connection here, just automatic, unspoken,” Hupp said. “In a way, they were my parents and they died quickly and they died together. I can’t imagine losing a child. I can’t even go there in my head.

A few days after the tragedy in Uvalda, Javier Cazares told how he rushed to school and carefully watched the children run away from school to catch a glimpse of his 9-year-old “cracker”.

He and other parents were disappointed that the police weren’t doing more. “Many of us argued with the police, ‘You should all go there,'” said Cazares, an army veteran.

Cazares said Thursday he still finds it hard to trust the ever-changing state police schedules. “No one wants to be blamed for what they did that day,” he said.

During a break in the hearings, Cazares and his family met in the hallway with about 10 police chiefs and officers. “We let you down,” Stan Standridge, San Marcos, Texas police chief, told the family.

Delays and errors in law enforcement responses now take center stage in many investigations. The head of the Texas State Police this week called it a “terrible failure” and said the police response ignored everything that came to light after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

Police had enough officers and firepower to stop the shooter three minutes after he entered the school, Colonel Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday. But officers armed with rifles waited in the school hallway for more than an hour before entering the classroom and killing the gunman.

He placed much of the blame for the delays on Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District police chief, who McCraw said was the commander in charge.

On Wednesday, the school district placed Arredondo on administrative leave. Uwalde Unified Independent School District superintendent Hal Harrell said the facts of what happened remain unclear.

Arredondo said he did not consider himself responsible and assumed that someone else had taken control. He turned down repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press.

Mayor Uvalde opposed placing the blame on Arredondo, saying that the Department of Public Safety had repeatedly released false information and hushed up the role of its own officers.

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Stangle reported from Dallas. Associated Press photographer Eric Gay of Austin and writer John Seaver of Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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Learn more about the Associated Press-covered Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting.

World Nation News Desk
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