‘Part of our healing journey is making change’: Brett and Nikki Cross find solace in activism

Despite critics and setbacks, the parents of Uziyah Garcia won’t stop telling his story.

By Sierra Albrecht & Patrick M. DavisMay 21, 2024 4:34 pm, , , ,

Nikki and Brett Cross have been among the most outspoken members of the Uvalde community since the 2022 shooting. Their 10-year-old son, Uziyah, was one of the 19 kids killed alongside their two teachers.

Brett has demonstrated with sit-ins at the Uvalde school district offices and the city’s police department. He’s also made headlines for being kicked out of the Texas capitol for chanting and for being arrested after using expletives at a Uvalde City Council meeting.

Activism has become a way of life for the Crosses over the past two years and they have no plans to quit any time soon. 

Nikki says their advocacy isn’t just about her son. 

“We’re not going to ever stop fighting for Uziyah and the other kids,” Nikki said. “Justice and accountability are so important to us because we just don’t want the same failures that happened at Uvalde to ever happen anywhere else.”

But their fight for reform and accountability has come with plenty of detractors. According to Brett, some authorities in Uvalde believe the activism in their town has gone on long enough. Brett says city officials were trying to silence him when they arrested him for swearing at a City Council meeting. But, according to Brett, that plan backfired.

“All they did was bring more attention back to Uvalde,” Brett said. “They brought more attention back to Uziyah, which I absolutely love, because our whole fight is making sure that he is remembered.”

Courtesy of Eraldo Chiecchi

Brett Cross shows off one of his tattoos memorializing Uziyah.

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows the grieving process can be long and difficult. For Nikki, advocacy is one way she works through her grief.

“Part of our healing journey is making change,” Nikki said. “When we start to feel like changes are being made in a positive way, that heals us a little bit.”

Nikki said she is often criticized for processing her grief so publicly. And while Nikki advocates in part to heal herself, she believes in the larger impacts of her work.

“I’ve been told that a lot– that I’m pushing my grief on to people,” Nikki said. “And that’s not true. I’m pushing my healing on to you, maybe. But these changes are necessary in our community.”

The changes Nikki and Brett would like to see include longer waiting periods before a gun can be purchased, more stringent red flag laws and a ban on assault-style weapons. Brett was quick to point out the specifics of the ban on assault weapons he favors.

“People don’t understand that we’re not coming into your house and taking them,” Brett said. “It’s just a pipeline freeze.”

Nikki agrees that a ban on assault weapons is vital to gun reform. The Crosses own a handgun that they store securely. But Nikki said weapons like the AR-15 should only be in the hands of trained law enforcement and military.

Police officers admitted they were hesitant to confront the Uvalde shooter because he was armed with an AR-15. The shooter purchased that weapon legally.

Brett also wants to raise the minimum age to buy a gun in Texas to 21. He thinks it’s hypocritical that Texans must be 21 to buy cigarettes but not firearms. In Brett’s view, the cigarettes only kill the person using them and take years to do so.

“But you can go out and buy an assault rifle that kills 19 students and two teachers in a matter of seconds,” Brett said. “So, we have to change things.”

Although Brett and Nikki are critical of Texas laws and lawmakers, they are proud Texans. Nikki wants to feel the same sense of security she knew growing up in Texas.

“I just would like to feel safer but our laws seem to be just going in the absolute opposite direction of that,” Nikki said. “I have daughters and sons that are growing up in this and I don’t want that for them.”

In the days following the tragic event, Nikki was sure that the Robb Elementary School shooting would mark a turning point in state and federal gun reform.

“I thought there’s no way people are going to look at Uvalde and see 19 little children who hadn’t even begun their lives yet and not make change,” Nikki said. “I quickly realized that is not reality in this country and it was heartbreaking.”

Somehow, Brett channels that heartbreak into a motivating force. 

“I use that to keep pushing forward and to fight,” Brett said. “I just try to take that discouragement and twist it to better the situation.”

A team of students at Texas State University are working with Professor Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi to continue to tell the stories of Uvalde. Here are their reflections on the project.

Sierra Albrecht
Age: 23
Major: Journalism
Hometown: Frisco, TX
Graduation: May 2024

As a journalist, being chosen to be a part of such an opportunity came with gratefulness and nervousness. This story became more than just a story to me as I had the opportunity to speak with families as they recounted the most difficult day of their lives. Telling their stories in a way that our team brought to life was truly an incredible experience to be a part of. This was my senior project and I am beyond proud of the time, work and effort that has been contributed by all team members. I am appreciative of all the families and others affected for making this possible.

A photo of Eraldo Chiecchi.Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi, MFA
Texas State University
Multimedia journalism professor
Uvalde reporting project coordinator
Hometown: El Paso, Texas

This is the second time our journalism students visited Uvalde, Texas, to report on this senseless tragedy – the worst days of the lives of so many people. Our students reported these difficult stories on the mass killing of 19 students and two teachers with grace, empathy and with the respect the victims deserved. Parents of the victims commented to me immediately after the interviews and elsewhere just how well prepared the students were to interview them – even more than some national media. As a result, family members were candid telling the stories. Students and I talked a great deal about vicarious trauma – a real thing among journalists and others who deal with tragedy. Students talked at length, especially on the drive back home. We visited Uvalde on two different days and conducted one interview in Austin. At the end of the project, students produced quality journalism – stories, video and audio pieces, and exceptional photography.

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