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Voices from Uvalde: ‘Remember the names. It’s all we ask.’

 A "Remember Tess Marie Mata. Gun reform now!" sign is held during a protest at the Texas Capitol in August 2022. Tess Marie Mata was one of the 21 victims at Robb Elementary School.
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
A "Remember Tess Marie Mata. Gun reform now!" sign is held during a protest at the Texas Capitol in August 2022. Tess Marie Mata was one of the 21 victims at Robb Elementary School.

It’s been almost one year since the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde killed 19 young students and two teachers. The families of those lost recently shared their experiences with journalism students at Texas State University.

Veronica and Jerry Mata told Ezekiel Ramirez about their daughter Tess:

Veronica Mata: I’m a kindergarten teacher here, and so I was on lockdown at my campus. The first time that we heard anything, we were just – we thought it was just another lockdown; it was just, you know, another bailout. We didn’t think anything of it. They had so many of them, so we really didn’t think too much about it.

I remember walking back down to my classroom and I was with my other coworkers and then they initiated the lockdown. And then we get an email. One of the permanent subs that we had on our campus, her sister was a teacher at Robb, and her sister was one of the teachers that had been shot in the other classroom that day, went through the wall. So the teacher meant to send the message to the admin and she accidentally sent it to her family.

Jerry Mata: By this time I was at work. I’m an aircraft mechanic, so I’m at the airport, and I had already seen like on Facebook, they put it out there, you know: Stay away from Robb Elementary because there’s a bailout. And that’s what they were calling it at the time. And knowing that that’s what it was, it was like, OK, well – but then like 5 minutes into that thinking process, she texted me and then that’s when it’s like, no, you need to get over there. And so I just took off.

When I got there, the scene was like, you know, you see cops, you see them with their with their weaponry, their high-caliber weaponry.

Veronica Mata: I’m in denial. It’s denial. That’s what it is. It’s denial. I don’t, I don’t accept it. Keeping busy is what’s keeping me sane. So doing this and doing the interviews – me talking about her and Tess and all of her friends and the two teachers – it’s just, that’s what’s keeping me going right now.

Jerry Mata: But in that day, that May 24th, we thought that they were doing their job correctly. But as updates came out, nobody – nobody on law enforcement, and yeah, not even the hospital out there, doctors, nurses – nobody knew what they were doing.

Veronica Mata: Our family is no longer the family that we were before. Even to the simplest things of how we wake up in the morning, our routines, it’s just – everything’s different. Everything is totally changed.

Tess was our very strong-headed, very energetic – she loved to dance. She loved to sing. And she loved to change out of clothes all the time. And she was always playing dress-up. Tess was –

Jerry Mata: The gymnastic, you know, little diva, too.

Veronica Mata: And she was also a loving little girl. She loved hugs.

Jerry Mata: She could make a friend in a minute, you know, we’d go anywhere and she’d be like, ‘Hey, look, I made a friend.’ I go, ‘Already? Give it some time; we just got here. And you already made a friend.’ I mean, she was just different.

Remember their names. Remember the 19 and the two teachers. Talk to your friends, you know, tell them what we’re trying to do. What we’ve been through.

Veronica Mata: Tell them to go in and look at Lives Robbed; it’s our nonprofit organization that a couple of the moms have created and are trying to raise awareness, you know, in honor of our girls. So hopefully we can make a change.

Jerry Mata: And just remember the names. It’s all we ask. 

» Voices from Uvalde: ‘To this day, I kind of always feel like I’m looking for him’

Reflections

Veronica and Jerry Mata shared their story with journalism student Ezekiel Ramirez as part of a project led by Texas State University associate professor of practice Dino Chiecchi.

Ezekiel Ramirez

 Ezekiel Ramirez
Ezekiel Ramirez

Age: 21

Major: Mass Communications

Hometown: San Antonio

Graduation: Spring 2024

Having the opportunity to contribute to this project was an experience that I will always hold close to my heart. The reason I wanted to do this in the first place was to gain some experience in the field of journalism. I knew the only way to help myself was to participate in something that was real. Interviewing these families and gaining a better understanding of what they were going through on May 24 was extremely life-changing. I will never forget the looks on their faces when faced with the difficult questions I was asking them. They are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met, because I don’t know if I could function after such a tragedy. All I wanted to do was hug them and tell them that it was going to be okay. Although I had no part in this tragedy, I believe if I’m not involved in the solution, then I’m part of the problem.

Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi, MFA

Dino Chiecchi
Dino Chiecchi

Texas State University

Multimedia journalism professor

Uvalde reporting project coordinator

Hometown: El Paso, Texas

I couldn’t be happier with the work of my students. They reported this difficult story with grace, empathy and gave their stories the respect they deserved. Parents of victims commented to me immediately after the interviews and elsewhere just how well prepared the students were to interview them – even more than some national media. As a result, family members were candid telling the story about the worst day of their lives. Every student was moved by the experience, listening to family members discuss the loved ones they lost. Students and I talked a great deal about vicarious trauma – a real thing among journalists and others who deal with tragedy. Students talked at length, especially on the drive back home, about their experience. But at the end of the project, students produced quality journalism: stories, video and audio pieces, and exceptional photography.

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