EDINBURG, Texas (ValleyCentral)  – Families affected by the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, assembled at a press conference Friday in Edinburg, speaking in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke.

In tearful tones, parents took turns before a microphone to talk about the 19 children and two teachers gunned down by an AR 15-style rifle.

“On May 24, 2022, after hours of agonizing uncertainty, law enforcement came for us as we waited at the reunification center. They told us they were taking us somewhere quieter to wait, but I knew in that moment there would be no reunion,” said Kimberly Rubio, the first parent to speak. “In a small room a familiar face and trusted friend delivered news I still haven’t come to terms with. My daughter Lexi Rubio was never coming home.

“The next day, as I lay mute, uncomprehending and in a state of shock, our governor told the nation, ‘it could have been worse.'”

O’Rourke and incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott are set to face each other in their first and only scheduled debate at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s campus in Edinburg.

Felix Rubio echoed Kimberly’s words: “I’m Lexi’s dad. I served in Army national guard… with two tours to Iraq. I’ve held a weapon of war. It doesn’t belong in homes and especially not in the hands of kids. I went to war and made it home. My daughter went to school and was murdered in her classroom.”

The governor’s race between Abbott and O’Rourke is more than a political meaning for the father, Felix Rubio said, explaining that “lives are on the line.”

“Hours before I was informed of my daughter’s death, Abbott said it could have been worse. But what did he mean? I don’t want to know,” Felix Rubio said.

O’Rourke followed a series of statements from parents, stepping up to the microphone to deliver a message.

“I want to begin by thanking you all for being here today because you are now able to amplify and elevate the stories of these families from Uvalde,” O’Rourke said. “As [one parent] just reminded us, it has been 18 weeks. Not a single thing has changed to make it any less likely that any other child in any other classroom in any other community in Texas will meet the same fate that these 19 children did on 24th of May of this very year, along with their two extraordinary teachers who had already sacrificed so much for those kids day in and day out, and ultimately gave their lives for them.”

Mother Gloria Cazares talked about her daughter, Jackie.

“Jackie was my free-spirited, sentimental princess who loved her friends and family with all her heart,” the mother said, saying her daughter died because “and 18-year-old had easy access to an assault rifle.”

“If changes were made years ago, my daughter would still be alive today,” she said.

She said her daughter was taken “with a heartbeat” to a hospital 77 minutes after being shot.

“She later died while a stranger got to hold her hand,” the mother said. “There is nothing I can do to bring my daughter back. But I am fighting for the future mom who will one day be in my shoes, who will one day blame herself for leaving her daughter at school after the morning award ceremony.”

Calling for action in Austin

Parents have called upon Abbott to call a Texas special legislative session in Austin, Gloria Cazares said, adding that they have sought laws regarding:

  • Raise the age limit to purchase AR-15-style rifles and similar from 18 to 21.
  • Red flag laws and background checks.

Abbott has not called a special legislative session following the Uvalde tragedy, but instead wrote a joint letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan, asking them to convene a special legislative committee on June 1, a week after the shooting.

“As Texans mourn the tragedy that occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde last week, we as a State must reassess the twin issues of school safety and mass violence,” reads Abbott’s June 1 letter. “As leaders, we must come together at this time to provide solutions to protect all Texans. Accordingly, I hereby request that each of you convene a special legislative committee. I look forward to working with you both on this important mission to make Texas safer, and I stand ready to provide any and all support.”

The governor’s letter directed focus on the following topics:

  • School safety;
  • Mental health;
  • Social media;
  • Police training;
  • and firearm safety.

During Friday’s press conference, O’Rourke pressed the calls for raising the age limit for purchases of AR-15-style rifles.

“Raising the minimum age of purchase to 21 is something that not only do every one of us here agree on, not only does the mayor of Uvalde and the entire city counsel, who… demanded that the governor call a special session, to bring Republicans and Democrats around the table to do just that,” O’Rourke said. “But I’ve travelled to every part of this state, literally, and listened to people who are for me, I’ve listened to people who will never vote for me.

“All of them agree that this makes sense. It allows us to continue to defend the second amendment while better protecting the lives of our children.”

The debate between Democratic Party Candidate Beto O’Rourke and incumbent Republican Party candidate Gov. Greg Abbott will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. Friday from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s campus in Edinburg.