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Uvalde school district suspended its entire police department, and parents are celebrating

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The entire school police department of Uvalde, Texas, was suspended yesterday. Chief was placed on leave and is expected to resign. Another official is on leave also. Of course, it was the school police, along with other agencies, that waited more than an hour before entering Robb Elementary back in May. That was even as students trapped by a shooter pleaded with emergency operators for help.

Parents of the victims have spent the last five months pushing for accountability and reform. As Texas Public Radio's Yvette Benavides reports, they were thrilled with yesterday's news.

YVETTE BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Outside the Uvalde School District offices, family members sat in folding portable chairs. They congregated in shifts so that at least a few family members were present at all times over the last 10 days. The announcement about the suspensions came via email, and word spread quickly through the group.

BRETT CROSS: I was staying here until they did that, and they did it. So now I'm going home.

BENAVIDES: Brett Cross, the uncle and guardian of 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, was there when news of the suspensions came.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So proud of you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're so proud of you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You deserve that. You deserve every tear that you're going to shed right now.

BENAVIDES: His wife, Nikki, and other victims' relatives hugged and high-fived. They seemed elated about the news, but there were also tears. When he tried to walk, Cross fell to his knees and wept silently while his wife and friends comforted him.

CROSS: You know, you tell your kids that you're going to protect them and everything, and they made a liar out of me on May 24 because I couldn't protect my son. They weren't going to make a liar out of me again.

BENAVIDES: The victims' families plan to continue their protest Monday at the Uvalde school board meeting. Superintendent Hal Harrell is expected to announce his retirement.

And these families of the victims say they're ready to stand up and protest for other causes, too. Kimberly Mata-Rubio's daughter, Lexi, was killed in the shooting. She says that she and other families will focus their activism on gun reform. They've been pushing Texas to raise the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 - something Governor Greg Abbott has called unconstitutional.

KIMBERLY MATA-RUBIO: It's on a small level. We're focused on Uvalde. But look what happened. We're stronger in these large numbers. So if we can get behind us for gun reform, think of what we can do.

BENAVIDES: For now, the focus in Uvalde is restoring confidence in school safety. I'm Yvette Benavides in Uvalde. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yvette Benavides