Demands for gun law reform echo throughout downtown San Antonio
Several hundred activists marched in downtown San Antonio on Saturday to bring attention to gun violence and to advocate for changes to gun laws.
The March for Our Lives event began at 10 a.m. at Milam Park. Participants then marched to City Hall, where they chanted their demands.
"Sutherland Springs and Uvalde, locations of two of the deadliest mass shootings in our states history, are within 45 mins of San Antonio," the event's Facebook page explained. "Don’t wait for a tragedy like this to reach your part of town before acting."
Veteran and teacher John Cedio was one of the speakers.
I just think that it’s up to our leaders," he said. "They’re the ones that make the laws. Our congress makes the laws. Our leaders have to do what is right. Sometimes doing what is right is hard, but they’re the ones that have to stand up and do what is right and make these changes for all citizens to be safe."
March for Our Lives was founded by teens in the wake of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in 2018.
"I think one side believes that this movement is is out there to take away guns," Cedio said as he explained the group's goals. "Really, it's to change the ease at which people get them. And it's about the types of weapons that are available for citizens to use to inflict mass mass death."
The Uvalde shooting motivated many in the crowd to participate in the event. Dylan Villalon, coordinator for the group Move Texas in Bexar County, explained how the Uvalde shooting affected him.
"It is definitely different to see it hit so close to home," he said. "It really just reminded me how easy it is to become complacent to things that happen across the country, but when it happens 40 minutes away, you feel it. You feel it in a way you don’t feel other incidents. It’s encouraging to see so many people say this is not right.
My 15yr old son made this powerful art work the day after the mass shooting in Texas. He gave me the words I didn’t have ❤️😭 #BanAssaultWeaponsNow #CommonSenseGunLaws #EndGunViolence #GunReformNow #Enough #SaveUs #DoSomething #Uvalde #wednesdaythought pic.twitter.com/aY9ofpUp2H— Carolyn Dean (@Carolyn__Dean) June 8, 2022
The march and rally came at the end of a week filled with developments related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, which left 21 children and adults dead and 17 wounded.
The week began with an update on six shooting survivors hospitalized in San Antonio.
University Health reported that a 66-year-old woman was in good condition and a 10-year-old was in serious condition. A 9-year-old girl was discharged from the hospital over the weekend. A fourth patient from the shooting was released on May 27.
A 10-year-old boy treated for gunshot wounds at Methodist Children's Hospital was also released last week. Earlier this month, Brooke Army Medical Center reported two adult patients were in good condition.
On Tuesday morning, the Uvalde City Council met to extend the emergency declaration issued by Mayor Don McLaughlin Jr.
Notably absent from the meeting was Pete Arredondo, the chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, who has been criticized for his slow response to the shooting. He was sworn in as a city councilmember in a closed door meeting last week after winning an election earlier this year.
McLaughlin told reporters at the meeting that he hadn't spoken to Arredondo for about a week. He added that he had not yet been briefed on the ongoing investigation into the incident, which is now led by Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Busbee. However, he also admitted he had not asked his own city police chief for a briefing on the investigation.
Also on Tuesday, Bexar County Commissioners approved a package of measures to combat local gun violence, including $21 million for school-based mental health services. Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said school-based mental health services could help a troubled youth early and prevent future school shootings.
Commissioners also approved nearly $15 million to expand other mental health services, including more treatment beds and a phone line on how to get help for a family member showing signs of mental illness. They also approved funding for a gun safety outreach program and for free gun lock distribution.
Later in the day, Matthew McConaughey, the actor and Uvalde native, appeared during a White House press briefing and demanded Republicans and Democrats to pass gun reform. "People in power have failed to act," he said, speaking for victims' families.
NPR reported that he called for "red flag laws, which allow an individual to petition a court to temporarily remove the weapons of someone who has been deemed a threat to themselves or others," along with more background checks and raising the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles, like the one used in the shooting.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard testimony from Miah Cerrillo, 11, one of the survivors of the shooting. In a video played during the hearing, the fourth grader recounted how the gunman shot her classmates. She thought the gunman would shoot her too, so she smeared blood from her friend's body all over her body and played dead. She then called 911. NPR reported that she "believed another shooting would happen again."
Parents of shooting victims also testified and demanded reforms to gun laws. Relatives of other gun violence victims also testified before the committee, which plans to compose new gun reform legislation. Republicans instead called for safer schools and better mental health programs.
Also on Wednesday, NPR reported that the U.S. Department of Justice opened "an incident review" of the shooting to explore the actions and reactions of law enforcement agencies, which have been widely criticized, particularly by parents of the victims. Officials emphasized that it was not a criminal investigations and will not levy any punishments.
They said the objective is to learn from any mistakes, develop best practices for emergency personnel and improve communication with the public during similar crises.
On Thursday morning, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said students originally assigned to Robb Elementary will now go to two other schools. Incoming second graders will stay at Dalton Elementary, and 3rd through 6th grade will move to Flores.
Harrell said law enforcement officers have been assigned to each campus during summer school, and the district is coming up with a plan to make campuses more secure.
School officials refused to answer most reporter’s questions — including whether or not school doors lock automatically or when parents might get clear answers about what happened the day of the shooting.
That same day, Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, opened a Texas House committee investigation into the police response to the Uvalde shooting. “The entire state of Texas deserves the facts and answers as to what happened leading up to, during, and in the aftermath of this tragedy,” he said. He added that witnesses would testify in closed sessions.
The three person committee may produce a preliminary report in the coming weeks to share information with the public before its work is completed. Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Eva Guzman, a former Republican member of the Texas Supreme Court, are also on the committee.
On Thursday afternoon, the New York Times reported that, based on a review of school video, body cam footage and law enforcement documents, the officers deployed to the incident delayed confronting the gunman for more than hour "despite supervisors at the scene being told that some trapped with him in two elementary school classrooms were in need of medical treatment. ..." Instead, the Times reported, "they waited for protective equipment to lower the risk to law enforcement officers."
By Thursday evening, coverage of the Uvalde shooting briefly faded into the background as hearings investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol opened in Washington D.C. Several news outlets, including TPR, broadcast the hearings live.
TV viewers saw riveting images -- many never widely seen before -- of the tsunamis of rioters violently storming the Capitol grounds, beating police officers and charging down hallways with Trump campaign banners and Confederate flags.
But as the hearings concluded, the Texas Tribune posted its exclusive interview with Arredondo, the UCISD police chief. He told the Tribune he thought he could shoot the gunman himself or draw his fire when he and other officers stood outside a locked classroom door at Robb Elementary School.
Arredondo added that he thought someone else was in charge of the response. He didn't consider himself the incident commander on the scene.
He said he never relayed instructions to delay a breach of the building. He didn't issue any orders, and he was not aware of 911 calls from students or teachers because he left his police radios behind, and other officers did not relay the information to him.
The week ended with another funeral.
On Friday morning, Eva Mireles, the 44-year-old teacher killed in the shooting, was laid to rest at Hillcrest Cemetery in Uvalde following a Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. She had been a teacher for 17 years.
Mireles is survived by her daughter and husband, who is a Uvalde CISD police officer. She was reportedly on the phone with her husband shortly before her death.
NPR, Houston Public Media's Lucio Vasquez and the Texas Newsroom's Sergio Martínez-Beltrán contributed to this report.