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Uvalde families are grappling with 1st school year since deadly shooting

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In these coming days, many kids and educators will return to public school classrooms for the first time since the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School, the shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. And in Uvalde, the school year will begin without one leader who's been widely criticized for the police response to the shooting. Well, our co-host, Juana Summers, is part of a team reporting in Uvalde all this week on how families are navigating this moment. Hey, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hey there.

KELLY: So I was thinking it's - incredibly, it's been three months since the shooting in May at Robb Elementary School. What does it feel like in that town right now?

SUMMERS: Well, it's clearly a community that's still grieving. Restaurants and shops still have Uvalde strong signs on display. And there are these beautiful murals. They are portraits of the victims, and they're still being painted on the sides of downtown buildings. And the new school year is about to start. But as city manager Vince DiPiazza told us when we spoke yesterday, it's only been three months, and that is just not a long time.

KELLY: No. And you mentioned the families, of course, still have questions. Investigators still have a ton of questions, trying to figure out what happened with the police response that day. Where do those questions stand?

SUMMERS: Well, families tell us that they want accountability and more clarity about why it took so long for law enforcement to respond. And as you mentioned, there are investigations in their response, multiple investigations. Parents also say they want to know more about how the school district plans to improve security. And last night there was a big development. The school board voted unanimously to fire School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo. There had been a lot of pressure on the school board to terminate him. He's been criticized for not ordering officers to act sooner. Now, his lawyer did dispute that in a 17-page statement ahead of the meeting. But since that vote happened, we have not heard any further response from either Arredondo or his attorney.

KELLY: That must have been some school board meeting. Was it open to the public? Were y'all there?

SUMMERS: It was open to the public. There is a large presence of media and a lot of family members of these victims and survivors in that room. And it was, frankly, very emotional. As the board met in private session out of view for about 90 minutes, these parents and these family members - they took up the microphone, and they started sharing stories about the people they've lost. And they also called for action. After the meeting was over and the vote had been held, our producer Jonaki Mehta spoke with Barbara Miller, who is the grandaunt of Maranda Mathis, one of the students who was killed.

BARBARA MILLER: Well, it's a step in the right direction to getting things better fixed for the school system, their safety, their protection because you can't have someone that can't do the job.

SUMMERS: And, Mary Louise, we've also been speaking to the family of Noah Orona. He was shot but survived the shooting. And after the meeting ended, we ran into his mother, Jessica, and she told us she was shocked that Arredondo had been fired because it had taken so long for anything to happen. And so I asked her what she wants to happen next.

JESSICA ORONA: Everyone that was there on May 24 at the Robb shooting should be replaced. I don't see that, you know, them coming back for this school year would put anybody at ease.

KELLY: I can just hear so much pain still there. Tell me...

SUMMERS: Yeah.

KELLY: ...What other stories you have planned, who else you're talking to these coming days.

SUMMERS: Families here are just facing impossible choices. Some kids are still too scared to go back inside a classroom, and some parents do not trust the school district to keep their kids safe. Yuri DeLuna has two sons, Emmanuel and Eloyd (ph), and she's homeschooling both of them this year. Eloyd used to go to Robb Elementary, though he was not a student there when the shooting happened. And when we were at their home here, Yuri pointed us to the navy blue air mattress that sits near her front door.

YURI DELUNA: He's scared of windows, so his bed's high. So he won't sleep in his room. He thinks he'll get shot at.

SUMMERS: You'll hear more from her family and others about their worries but also their hopes for this coming school year.

KELLY: That's our co-host Juana Summers in Uvalde, Texas. Thank you so much for sharing this and all the reporting y'all are going to bring us from this week.

SUMMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
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.