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Her child was killed in the Uvalde shooting last year. Now, she's running for mayor

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

With each mass shooting, lives are lost, and countless others are destroyed. One of the worst in history happened in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We are following the breaking news out of Texas, and it is heartbreaking news. Fourteen students and one teacher are dead - killed after a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

SUMMERS: All told, 19 students and two teachers died that day at Robb Elementary School, including 10-year-old Lexi Rubio.

KIMBERLY MATA-RUBIO: She's a beautiful person, and we miss her a lot. This should have never happened. And she should be here.

SUMMERS: That's her mother, Kimberly Mata-Rubio. I first talked to her and her husband, Felix, three months after the shooting.

MATA-RUBIO: Lexi would have made a difference in this world. She was very into politics already at a young age. I know she would have made a difference. So it's not just us who lost someone. The world lost her.

SUMMERS: Rubio is now hoping to make a difference by running for mayor of Uvalde in a special election next week. Earlier this month, we spent some time with her as she was campaigning for votes in Uvalde. That was before the year's deadliest mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, and before a weekend full of gun violence across the country that left scores dead. We met her the day after what would have been Lexi's 12th birthday at the second annual Lexi Legacy Run.

MATA-RUBIO: Thank you all so much for coming out. Really, it means so much to me. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN WAILING)

MATA-RUBIO: Yay.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yay.

(APPLAUSE)

SUMMERS: She was still wearing her racing shirt, Lexi's name written in yellow and a medal around her neck as she introduced herself to voters in a neighborhood six blocks away from Robb.

MATA-RUBIO: No shower. I'm just going again straight like this. Run, block walk - typical Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

SUMMERS: She had just finished knocking on a front door when Joel Alvarado (ph) approached her.

MATA-RUBIO: Hi (laughter).

SUMMERS: He had just missed her knocking on his door.

JOEL ALVARADO: Tell me about yourself.

MATA-RUBIO: Yeah, yeah. OK, so I've always lived in Uvalde.

ALVARADO: Yeah.

MATA-RUBIO: I work at the Uvalde Leader-News right now.

ALVARADO: Yeah.

MATA-RUBIO: I lost my daughter in the Robb Elementary School shooting.

ALVARADO: Oh, yeah.

MATA-RUBIO: So we've been fighting for accountability, transparency. And I decided, hey; I'm going to run for mayor.

SUMMERS: Rubio is up against two other candidates. One has been mayor before. When I spoke to her three months after the shooting, I asked her how she was making her way through such a horrific and impossible moment.

MATA-RUBIO: I feel like personally, I've just kind of thrown myself into the activism role. I don't give myself much time to think of it. I really don't think I've accepted, really.

SUMMERS: I asked her that question again last Tuesday.

MATA-RUBIO: I don't think that that answer has changed for me. I don't think that I will ever accept the loss of my daughter. But I have found - I think that for me, staying busy is how I cope.

SUMMERS: I want to ask you what may seem like a kind of obvious question, but walk us through your decision-making. What made you decide to run for office?

MATA-RUBIO: Immediately after the tragedy, I really threw myself in support of a complete ban of assault weapons at the federal level. When that bill didn't pass, we turned our focus to the state level. Raising the age from 18 to 21 to be able to purchase these weapons - that also failed. And in this journey, I came to realize that change starts from the ground up in small towns like my own. I just decided that needs to be me.

SUMMERS: I have to imagine that was not an easy decision. What was that conversation like at home for your family, your husband, when you decided to take the leap and to run for mayor?

MATA-RUBIO: So I was actually at work, and I texted him, you know, what do you think about this? And, you know, I definitely had some apprehensions. And he fully supported it. He actually encouraged it. He said, you can do this. You're Lexi's mom. And it just took those few words of encouragement for me to be all in.

SUMMERS: What do you think that you could do as an officeholder, as an elected official, that you can't do as a private citizen and as an activist?

MATA-RUBIO: There's nothing that the average person can't do as far as advocating for what they believe in their hearts is right and true. But as mayor and holding office, it's the platform to be able to share what happened here, how it changed our community, the steps we took to move forward and bring those 21 individuals with us.

SUMMERS: What has running been like for you? In any ways, is it harder than you thought it would be to reach people and to make the case to them that they should support you instead of someone else?

MATA-RUBIO: Block walking has been exciting because I get to meet people, and I get to hear about them. But even when I meet people who don't agree with me, it's still a conversation that has to be had. It's still an opinion I want to hear. And it's still another member of our community that deserves to be heard.

SUMMERS: Is there a specific story or encounter with someone as you've been block walking that stands out to you?

MATA-RUBIO: Not necessarily block walking but a rise in encounters at stores. A lot of little girls call out to me. And they say, Kim. And some of them are around Lexi's age. Some of them aren't. Some of them are younger. Some of them are older. I just see so much hope in their eyes, and it's beautiful, and it reminds me of Lexi. And that's one of the moments that I'll take with me after this campaign.

SUMMERS: When you talk to people, whether it's out there block walking or at other events, what are the types of things that you're hearing from people there? What do they want in a new mayor? What do they want for their community?

MATA-RUBIO: What I'm hearing is, No. 1, healing. I think everybody feels the tension in this community right now. And people do want to move forward. It's just - what does that look like? That varies from individual to individual.

SUMMERS: I want to stick with talking about this tension for a minute here. When you're having conversations with your friends, your neighbors, would-be supporters, where do you see the tension between residents in Uvalde? What's going on there?

MATA-RUBIO: I think it feels like it's those who back the 21 and those who want to move forward, forget, push everything under the rug. A lot of the tension also stems from our calling for accountability and transparency with - regarding the investigation, the failures that day. I don't think we can move forward unless we have the answers that everybody in this community deserves. What went wrong that day, and how do we make sure it never happens again?

SUMMERS: And when you say the 21, you're talking about the 21 people who were killed at Robb Elementary. Is that right?

MATA-RUBIO: Yes.

SUMMERS: What difference do you think that your leadership can make for your community, a community that has been so marked by tragedy?

MATA-RUBIO: I feel like I carry empathy that others don't. I lost my daughter, so I'm one of the ones that lost the most, you know? But I also understand the other side. And I also understand that there's this need to move forward because you don't want to stay in this heaviness, this pain. I completely understand. I also want what's best for my entire community.

SUMMERS: Before I let you go, what do you think that Lexi would think about you running for mayor? What do you think she'd have to say?

MATA-RUBIO: One, Lexi is extremely competitive. So I know she would be excited and helping me on the ground any way she could. I think she'd be really, really proud of me. She loved to read about women in positions of power. And I know she would have made a difference in this world if she'd been given the opportunity. So I want to do that for her.

SUMMERS: Kimberly Marta-Rubio. She's running for mayor of Uvalde, Texas. Kimberly, thank you.

MATA-RUBIO: Thank you.

SUMMERS: This story was produced by Karen Zamora and edited by Courtney Dorning.

(SOUNDBITE OF STORMZY SONG, "FIRE + WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Karen Zamora
Courtney Dorning
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.
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