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Revisiting Uvalde two years on as families continue to press for accountability

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Today marks two years since a gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Since that day, the community has struggled to heal and find common ground while also holding local and state law enforcement accountable for their botched response. Texas Public Radio's Kayla Padilla has been reporting from Uvalde, and she joins us now. Kayla, I know that you've been spending a lot of time there in Uvalde. Tell us. How is this town doing two years later? What are you seeing and hearing?

KAYLA PADILLA, BYLINE: Well, you can feel the heaviness in Uvalde. People are stopping by the memorials in the downtown square and at Robb Elementary to pay their respects. Families of the victims are bringing fresh flowers and toys to the cemetery. Throughout the town, there are these 21 murals that display the faces of the victims and their favorite interests. For example, 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia's mural includes Spider-Man and a basketball. And the 21 crosses placed in front of the school two years ago are still standing.

SUMMERS: Wow. I mean, it sounds like reminders of that awful day are just everywhere there. I mean, are people in Uvalde leaning on each other for support?

PADILLA: Well, it might seem like it, but the answer is not as simple. There's this rift between the families who are still grieving and the community members who want the city to go back to how it was before. Actually, recently, when I was interviewing a parent in Uvalde, someone driving by yelled, move on. And parents like Javier Cazares, the father of 9-year-old victim Jackie Cazares, think there's a lack of community support.

JAVIER CAZARES: On the way over here, I saw this sticker, which I see everywhere - Uvalde strong. If that was the case, this room should be filled and then some showing their support.

PADILLA: Now, this is not necessarily because people don't care, but a lot of them are living paycheck to paycheck and focused on putting food on the table. The town has also had inconsistent mental health services, so people are in different stages of grief. So I think being under national scrutiny has taken a toll on this town where everyone knows each other.

SUMMERS: Sure. And this week 19 families representing the victims announced that they have reached a $4 million settlement between the city and the county of Uvalde. Kayla, what do we know about the thinking behind that dollar figure?

PADILLA: Yeah. So the families intentionally settled for that amount because they don't want to bankrupt their city. John Koskoff is the lawyer representing the families, and he says that they just don't want to do this.

JOHN KOSKOFF: To their community that they either grew up in and have stayed in and were born here or they moved here because of the community, the last thing they would want to do was to inflict any financial hardship on their friends and neighbors.

PADILLA: This is not the only litigation that they're pursuing. They are suing the Texas Department of Public Safety over their response to the shooting.

SUMMERS: Right. And, Kayla, quickly, we know that the families have also been demanding that the local district attorney release her investigation into the police response that day. What can you tell us about the status?

PADILLA: We're still waiting for that report. But other investigations, like those from the Department of Justice and the Texas House of Representatives, identified systemic failures in law enforcement's actions on that day.

SUMMERS: That was Texas Public Radio's Kayla Padilla. Thank you, Kayla.

PADILLA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRANDI CARLILE SONG, "RIGHT ON TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kayla Padilla
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