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Biden mourns with community in Uvalde visit

MILES PARKS, HOST:

For the second time in as many weeks, the president is visiting a community that's been shattered by a mass shooting. After his visit to Buffalo less than two weeks ago, President Biden is in Uvalde today. His visit comes as the Justice Department today confirmed they'll be conducting a review of the law enforcement response to the shooting and making those findings public. Stella Chavez with member station KERA is reporting from there. Welcome, Stella.

STELLA CHAVEZ, BYLINE: Hi, Miles.

PARKS: And what do we know about how the president is marking this visit today?

CHAVEZ: Well, as far as I know, he is not making a public speech. He did visit the school, Robb Elementary. He and the first lady laid a bouquet of flowers with other local and state officials. And he talked with the superintendent and principal. He also is meeting with families of the victims and survivors. He's meeting with first responders. He also attended Mass, which had about 600 people in attendance. And when he was leaving the church, a crowd of people chanted, do something. And he responded. He said, we will.

PARKS: And I do understand in Uvalde, at that memorial, which, as you mentioned, has been growing in size - visitors are bringing flowers, teddy bears and notes - you met a student there who was actually in a classroom across the hallway from where the shooting happened. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how the student is holding up?

CHAVEZ: Yes. Caitlyne Gonzales - she's 10 years old, and this was one of the most difficult interviews I've had to do. She talked about being inside the classroom. She was scared. She used her cellphone to call both her mom and her dad. Her mom told me later that what she said to her when she picked up the phone, she said, mommy, pick me up now. Sadly, two of her best friends were killed in the classroom across the hallway, and Caitlyne points out that all of the students in that classroom were her friends.

But as awful as this was, she insisted on visiting the memorials. She asked her mother to take her. She wanted to write messages on the crosses bearing the names of her friends who were killed. And I asked Caitlyne what was going through her mind as she hid in her classroom, and this is what she said.

CAITLYNE: I was thinking mainly about my friends and my family, but I was thinking more about my mom because she had just been there 30 minutes before at my awards ceremony.

CHAVEZ: And, Miles, I was really just struck by her composure throughout the interview. As I said, this was very difficult to just even ask her questions. Her mom was very supportive, though, and Caitlyne said that she has to stay strong for her family and friends.

PARKS: I imagine it's not just children from the school and families there that were directly impacted by this paying their respects at the memorial - people traveling from other communities as well. Can you tell us a little bit about who else you've met and why they felt compelled to travel?

CHAVEZ: Yeah. I've been struck by the number of out-of-town visitors, people from as far away as Canada, Colorado. I met some Columbine survivors, and I met 9-year-old Jazmine Rosario. She was standing outside - in a line outside Robb Elementary with her parents and siblings. And just like Caitlyne, she also begged her mom to visit, to take her to this memorial, the one outside the school. She lives in San Antonio, and she says, you know, it's important for her to pay her respects.

But she also talked about how difficult it is to see all of this happening, that she is angry, just like many of the adults, that - her exact words were, they did nothing, referring to the 19 law enforcement officers who were inside the school for - what? - a period of, like, 80 minutes. And she said she's scared. She's scared that this could happen at her school. And that's something that I personally keep thinking about, is that there are so many kids like her who are worried about whether this will happen on their campus.

PARKS: Stella Chavez with member station KERA, thank you so much for this tough reporting.

CHAVEZ: Thank you, Miles. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.