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Uvalde resident discusses how the community is coping, one month later

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

In Uvalde, Texas, the school district's police chief, Pete Arredondo, was put on administrative leave last week following widespread criticism of his response to the shooting at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 children. Arredondo also serves on Uvalde's City Council but has not attended any meeting since he was sworn in just days after the shooting. Uvalde City Council members were considering granting Arredondo a leave of absence, and that's when Kim Hammond decided to speak up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIM HAMMOND: Don't waste any more time on him. I know you probably all have a relationship with him. I don't know him. He's my councilman. I'm sitting in a district right now that no councilman has come to my door to say, hey, how you doing?

NADWORNY: Kim Hammond joins us now from Uvalde. Good morning.

HAMMOND: Good morning.

NADWORNY: So what motivated you to speak at that city council meeting last week?

HAMMOND: I just felt compelled. I knew the families were making pleas for accountability. They were telling their stories. They were demanding answers. But I knew that I could give the council something that was something they could act on, give them an actionable item. And I found it in their city charter under Article II, Section 9, which states that a council or the mayor misses three council meetings, then they are considered vacating their seat. And so I jumped up from the couch and ran to the meeting because I had not planned on speaking that night.

NADWORNY: And your neighbors' families wanted to get rid of Arredondo, but they couldn't recall him - right? - because he hadn't served in the council long enough.

HAMMOND: Right, right. What it came down to is - I had made a comment on Facebook. I said, Pete needs to be recalled. One of the victims' fathers, Brett Cross, reached out to me and said, how do we recall him? And I worked as a postmaster for many, many, many years, and so I was used to finding ways of fighting grievances with the unions, so I had - I'm well-skilled at reading contracts and employee manuals. So I just gave him - you know, just - this is where you start. And so he did. He wrote up a petition and took it down to the municipal court. And they said, you can't because he has to be in his seat for eight months. He, understandably, was infuriated.

NADWORNY: And then you went back to the paperwork, and you found the solution?

HAMMOND: Yeah. All he needs to do now is miss two more meetings, and they will consider him as vacating his seat.

NADWORNY: You moved to Uvalde fairly recently - last fall. What has been your experience of the community so far?

HAMMOND: I love it. It's quiet. Neighbors, you know, keep to themselves but, if you see each other outside, you visit. We share cakes and, like, brisket and things of that nature. Just a very welcoming community - very welcoming.

NADWORNY: You live just a couple doors down from Robb Elementary School, and you were there on the day of the shooting, right?

HAMMOND: Yes. At first, it was just - I was so impressed with the law enforcement response. And then, as the minutes ticked by, it's like, well, what's going on? And then when the ambulance started pulling up, I realized that this is way worse than we've been told. The gravity of it started to settle in. You know, it's like people are portraying that we're laser-focused on Pete. I'm not laser-focused just on Pete, but Pete was obviously the one in charge, whether he says he was or not.

NADWORNY: You said you want to make sure you hold people accountable. What does accountability look like for you?

HAMMOND: Accountability to me means that - admit where the failures were. Admit it. Fix it or be removed. If they're not willing to admit where they failed and they're not willing to fix it, then we want you to move on because we need people in there that are not just there for the title. We need people in there that are actually going to check the box and then follow through.

NADWORNY: A funeral for Uziyah Garcia was held this weekend, as was graduation for the high school seniors. It's been just over a month since that shooting happened. How do you think the community is coping?

HAMMOND: Well, we're starting - they're starting to vocalize that we that are calling for accountability are dividing this community, that it's becoming divisive. I don't want that to happen. That's not anybody's intention. These families just need the truth. And those that think it's being divisive are obviously the ones that are backing law enforcement. They should defend their local law enforcement - absolutely - but don't let it divide us. Help us. Help us get the answers that these families deserve, that this neighborhood deserves, that this community deserves, you know?

NADWORNY: Kim Hammond in Uvalde, Texas, thank you so much for being with us.

HAMMOND: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC VLOEIMANS' "PRINCE OF DARKNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.