‘We’re the voice now’: Veronica and Jerry Mata tell Tess’s story through activism

The parents of one of the 19 children killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary in 2022 say the constant push for change takes a toll on them – but they won’t stop.

By Elissa Jorgensen & Laura RiceMay 17, 2024 4:32 pm, , ,

“Some days are better than others,” Veronica Mata said. “Today’s a good day. It’s a good day… we’re here, helping support, you know, getting people to come out and vote. And so – it’s a good day.”

Advocacy has become a constant in their lives since their 10-year-old daughter, Tess, was killed in the state’s deadliest school shooting.

“We’re just keeping her memory going by speaking up on her behalf,” Jerry Mata said.

A photo of Jerry Mata

“Keeping not only the memory of Tess, but of Jackie and Lexi, and of all the other kids from Uvalde alive and making sure that nobody forgets what happened to them,” Veronica Mata said.

The pair regularly travel Texas and across the United States to be a part of panels and events.

“I mean, it takes a toll on us. It does,” Veronica Mata said. “It’s hard because we’ve never – had never – thought about doing anything like this before. So it’s just, it’s something that’s new to all of us.”

They felt very satisfied that the Department of Justice report revealed the failures in the response to the shooting.

» Related: Voices from Uvalde

“I think they hit it right in the mark,” Veronica Mata said.

“Everything that was in there was what we kind of already knew,” Jerry Mata said. “And, you know, we just needed it to be told to the entire world.”

But they say the response needs to go beyond that recognition.

“Because state, you know, those laws aren’t changed,” Veronica Mata said. “We have to fight for those laws, and we have to fight for the kids that are still surviving. You know, we’ve got kids that are hurting that weren’t even in the classroom that day, but were maybe across the hall. We have children that are still afraid to go to school, and we have to continue to fight.

“I know that Tess would want us to fight for her friends. And Tess had a big heart. She had a very big heart. And she wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody else.”

They say they want not just lawmakers but the people who vote for them to hear their stories and to take action.

» Texas Standard special report: Are Texas schools any safer since the Uvalde shooting?

“You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to vote for what’s right,” Veronica Mata said. “Even if you’re voting Republican, if you’re voting Democrat, it doesn’t matter. You know, your voice isn’t going to be heard unless you’re out there and you’re doing what’s right.”

“And just, you know, remember their names, never forget,” Jerry Mata said.

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.

A photo of Elissa Jorgensen.Elissa Jorgensen
Age: 21
Major: Graduate student in mass communication
Hometown: Cypress, Texas
Graduation: May 2025

Twice now I have had the privilege of interviewing families and community members for the Uvalde project. I graduated from Texas State in May 2023 and chose to continue my education with the master’s program at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, being driven by my work on these stories. There is nothing that has been more pivotal for my journalism career and growth as a professional. These experiences have driven me to understand the significance of telling the stories of those who can no longer have a voice themselves. The strength of both my reporting team and the individuals we talked to is nothing short of amazing, and I thoroughly believe that Uvalde’s story will always have a place in my heart.

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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