Two gun safety advocates from South Texas who lost loved ones in the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde spoke in three South by Southwest conference panels in Austin on March 9 and 11, sharing their common messages of activism and healing.

A March 9 SXSW Education keynote involved Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was among the 19 students killed at Robb Elementary, an event that also saw two educators die in what authorities called the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history.

“The days after that, I wondered, ‘How could this happen to [Lexi]? How could his happen to me? How could this happen to us?'” Mata-Rubio recalled.

According to Mata-Rubio, it was not long after the shooting that she realized her next natural step was to advocate for common-sense gun laws and safer schools.

“There was no question in my mind, this was the way, the only way,” she said. “I have to make sure other moms aren’t put in this position because this pain—no one should live like this.”

Mata-Rubio now presides over the nonprofit movement Lives Robbed, which is centered around the Uvalde families who lost a loved one in the Robb Elementary shooting but has spread its message to nearby San Antonio and beyond.

Mata-Rubio said the efforts her family and others affected by the Robb Elementary tragedy are putting forth are more than just addressing public policies regarding gun safety, policing and mental health, the latter of which was an issue with the shooter, according to local authorities.

Mata-Rubio said she wants the public to know about the lives that the slain children and educators had led.

“[Lexi] was brilliant, intelligent, beautiful, athletic and driven. She had her whole life in front of her, and this world is really missing out on her contributing to it. But my hope is that in some way, she still is,” Mata-Rubio said.

Mata-Rubio said she and fellow Uvalde families and other gun safety advocates have been meeting with state and federal lawmakers, seeking measures such as a total permanent ban on assault weapons, bolstering background checks and raising Texas’ minimum age from 18 to 21 to acquire an automatic rifle.

“I hope I’m making a difference,” she said.

Lives Robbed member Jazmin Cazares, who lost her 9-year-old sister Jackie at Robb Elementary, spoke at two SXSW panels March 11.

One panel explored how gun violence affects youth. Event organizers said in 2021, more than 1,570 children and teenagers were killed in gun-related violence with an 80% increase among Black youths and 46% in Hispanic youths over 2020.

As a high schooler, Cazares said even school shooting drills can be traumatizing.

“It’s a uniquely American experience to fear for your life in school, and while gun violence affects everyone, it mainly affects youth and children,” Cazares said. “It’s such a terrible thing that we go to school and tell our parents we love them because we may not make it home. It’s so disappointing, and it’s so sad, but it’s why we’re here because we don’t want this to happen anymore.”

Another March 11 SXSW panel delved into bipartisan approaches, at the federal level, improving gun safety and curbing gun violence.

Cazares and fellow panelists agreed that gun laws should include an emphasis on gun owners taking personal responsibility—not just legal responsibility—for proper firearms storage and training.

“I didn’t think about using that kind of language until we had the gun violence prevention forum at Northwell,” Cazares said, referring to a forum that the Northwell Health organization assembled in New York City in February.

Other participants in these school safety and gun violence panels said addressing those issues should stress age limits for purchasing specific firearms, more background checks, increasing mental health care resources, helping gun violence victims deal properly with trauma and confronting reasons behind hate-inspired shootings.

The discussion about how gun violence affects youth included Samantha Fuentes, who was 18 when she survived the Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018, an event that claimed 17 lives.

Fuentes said she considers herself a high-functioning individual, but that the post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from that day strikes her no matter where she is or what she is doing.

“Five years later, I’m in fear for my life, whether I’m at my job, at college or on the subway,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes said she tries to deal with her stress and grief over losing friends at Douglas High by connecting with other school shooting survivors and advocating for policies and measures that could help to shore up school safety and improve mental health offerings, especially for youngsters.

“Gun violence is so incredibly devastating and selfish and, for a lot of us activists, we don’t choose this for ourselves," Fuentes said. "This isn’t a hobby; it’s a lifestyle that will continue to be that for me for the rest of my life."