President Joe Biden on Wednesday reiterated his call for a ban on assault rifles as he and first lady Jill Biden somberly marked the anniversary of a Texas school shooting that killed 21 people and devastated the small community of Uvalde.
At the White House, the Bidens paid their respects to the 19 fourth-graders who died one year ago, pausing at a white candle lit for each of them. The gunman also cut short the lives of two teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles.
The dead children's names are Nevaeh, Jacklyn, Makenna, Jose, Eliahna, Uziyah, Amerie Jo, Xavier, Jayce, Tess, Maranda, Alithia, Annabell, Maite, Alexandria, Layla, Jailah, Eliahna and Rojelio. They ranged in age from 9 to 11.
Biden spoke of his 2022 visit to Uvalde, just days after the shooting.
"We spent hours with the grieving families, who were broken and will never ever quite be the same," Biden said. "To the families of the children and the educators — we know one year later it's still so raw for you. A year of missed birthdays and holidays, school plays, soccer games. Just that smile. A year of everyday joys, gone forever."
And, he said, the parents had delivered a consistent message.
"Each place we heard the same message: 'Do something. For God's sake, please do something,'" he said. "We did something afterwards. But not nearly enough."
Shortly after the shooting, Biden pushed through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which allocated $250 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives.
He now seeks congressional support to ban high-powered assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
But many Republicans oppose strong gun-control measures, saying they challenge the Constitution's Second Amendment, which grants the right to bear arms.
"It doesn't prevent crime and it won't allow people to defend themselves and their loved ones," said Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, who was among the 33 senators who voted against the 2022 law, in a statement after his vote. "And frankly, the Supreme Court might find significant portions of it to be unconstitutional. But because of their political agenda, Democrats have sought to disarm law-abiding citizens. This is a mistake, which is why I voted against this misguided attempt and fought for an alternative that would actually save lives."
The White House said Wednesday that it could do only so much about mass shootings on its own.
Since the passage of the 2022 law, "the president has continued to implement dozens — two dozen — executive actions to help reduce gun violence and keep weapons of war out of dangerous hands," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. "But he has continued to say that it's not enough. It is not enough. And he's continued to call on Congress to take action."
In Uvalde, the pain lingers.
"This week is a tough week," Mayor Don McLaughlin said during a recent briefing on a criminal investigation into the shooting. "We can't even imagine the pain that the families are feeling one year [later], and we realize you still don't have the answers that you need."
Uvalde schools were closed Wednesday, the district said, "out of respect, observance and safety concerns."
Some of the Uvalde parents have publicly shared their pain.
On the anniversary, Amerie Jo's mother, Kimberly Garcia, tweeted a short video of a smiling Amerie Jo tenderly brushing her mother's hair.
"What I would do to have a lifetime of moments like this," Garcia wrote. "Mom can't wait to be with you again."
Amerie Jo died while calling 911 on the phone her parents had given her three weeks earlier for her 10th birthday. The Girl Scouts posthumously awarded her a Bronze Cross, a medal "presented when a girl has shown special heroism or faced extraordinary risk of her own life to save another's life or an attempt to save another life."
"I'm exhausted, emotionally and physically," wrote Gloria Cazares, mother of 9-year-old Jackie. "My heart is completely shattered and there is no healing."
And Lexi's mother, Kimberly Mata-Rubio, marked the day with a photo of her tending to the flower-laden grave of her 10-year-old daughter.
"Come back for me," she wrote. "Please, please don't leave me here."
Some of the parents have turned that pain into political action, appealing to the Texas Legislature to ban sales of high-powered rifles to people under age 21. That bill, which the governor opposes, looks likely to die without action as the session ends soon.
On Wednesday, the Texas Senate marked the anniversary.
"This moment of silence for the tragedy in Uvalde and the families and the victims," said Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick as the assembly stood, their heads bowed.