‘I was doing something right by big sisters’: A Uvalde victim’s sister two years on

As we approach another anniversary of the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, some struggle with keeping up with the level of advocacy they first embraced.

By Elissa Jorgensen & Laura RiceMay 14, 2024 9:45 am, , ,

Faith Mata’s younger sister, Tess Marie, died in the shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022.

Mata recently graduated from Texas State University and moved to Austin.

“Austin was the furthest I felt I could get away. But while having a good job to where I wanted to be at,” Mata said.

She said she views her job in the parole division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as important. But she struggles with taking a reduced role in the activism that consumed much of her time after the shooting.

“I was doing something right by big sisters,” Mata said. “Sometimes I feel guilty because I feel like I’m not doing it as much anymore. So, like, I’m just like an everyday adult. I get up in the morning and go to work, come back, make dinner and go to bed. And recently I just started thinking: ‘What have I done for Tess? Have I done anything for her recently?’”

"Remember Tess Marie Mata. Gun reform now! Uvalde Strong" sign being held up.

A protest at the Texas Capitol on Aug. 27, 2022.

Before taking her job with TDCJ, Mata was a congressional intern in Washington, D.C. She says she does stay in touch with many of the people she met and that they’re open to her thoughts on gun violence prevention and other issues.

“I did get to make a lot of network connections and share Tess’s story a lot over there.”

Now, she says the advocacy is falling more to her parents.

“Sometimes I hate that I don’t get to do it as often as I would want to, but I also have to remember, and my parents remind me of this also, like, I also have my future,” Mata said.

Still, she keeps up with what’s happening in Uvalde. She says she’s supportive of tearing down Robb Elementary where, she says, “There’s nothing good there.”

But she also wants the community to continue upkeep on memorials to Uvalde victims.

“I think people very much want the families in Uvalde to get over their grief, and I’m assuming crosses and balloons and flowers are bothersome,” Mata said. “So, it’s a reminder to you every day of May 24th. Could you imagine how much of a reminder it is to me, my parents, or the other families every time we walk into our homes, there’s someone that’s not at our dining room table. We pass by the bedroom they used to sleep in. We take care of their pets for them now. That is us being reminded of May 24th every single day.”

Mata said she felt validated by the Department of Justice report on the inadequacies of the response to the shooting.

“When the Department of Justice, your United States government, comes out and says that it was an epic failure across all boards, [it] solidified everything that we have been thinking, you know, and it made us feel like there’s hope,” Mata said. “Everyone in the United States has heard that they failed that day.”

In the day to day, Mata says she’s focused on trying to find a balance in her new adult life and the obligations she still feels to Tess.

“Trying to figure out if what I’m really doing in life is what I should be doing, and then also feeling like you’re literally letting your sister down, like she’d be so disappointed,” Mata said. “It’s a constant reminder to yourself that you can’t give up, but you want to give up. It’s hard, but I’m on the other side.”

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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