UVALDE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – In the days and weeks following the fatal Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, mother Ana Rodriguez has been fighting for answers through her daughter's shoes.
Her daughter, 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez, was one of 21 killed in the May 24 massacre. She was identified solely through her size five pair of green Converse with a drawn-on heart on the left toe.
Those same shoes are now nationally recognized after actor Matthew McConaughey used a replicated pair to symbolize the damage done during a White House briefing June 7.
"These are the same green Converse on her feet that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her after the shooting," he stated.
Rodriguez said when she saw McConaughey had the shoes with him in the White House, she thought of and spoke to Maite.
"I was thinking of her, and I was telling her, 'Look how far you've made it.' I was thinking these shoes – in this moment – mean so much and are so important and they're such a staple in what happened here," she said.
Maite found the sneakers while the two were out shopping, something her mom said was turning into a new activity they would bond through.
"We were at a local shoe store here and she wanted Converse," Rodriguez recalled. "She saw at the bottom shelf these lime green Converse and they were on sale, so she said, 'Look mama, look at these shoes. I found Converse,' and I said, 'Well let's see if they're your size,' and they were her size. They were her exact size."
Two days later, Rodriguez said she saw her daughter sporting a freshly drawn heart on the toe.
"I said 'Maite, why did you draw a heart on your shoes? I just got those for you,' and she goes, 'Just because I really like them,'" she said.
The heart, Rodriguez feels, is a testament to Maite's sweet nature.
"She was just an all-around sweet girl. My sweet girl, that's what I called her – my sweet girl," Rodriguez said. "She was smart, beautiful and best-of-all she was my best friend, and I don't exaggerate on that. She was my best friend. We went everywhere together."
Together they planned to visit Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Maite's dream school where she hoped to become a marine biologist.
"It started in kindergarten. She couldn't even say marine biologist yet… I thought with time she's going to change her mind; she's going to want to be a nurse or something when she gets older. Well, she never changed her mind," Rodriguez said. "I wanted to keep encouraging her, you know, maybe if she saw the college or the university, the ocean – it would just keep driving her even harder."
The university has since unveiled the Maite Yuleana Rodriguez scholarship, which will be awarded to a student from Uvalde who is pursuing a degree in marine biology.
"I remember telling her, 'Maite, you're going to help so many students and you're still achieving so many things even after life.' I couldn't be any more proud of her."
And despite her heartbreak, Rodriguez says she refuses to let her daughter's death be in vain.
"It's unbearable. Unimaginable. Excruciatingly painful. Feelings of emptiness, just a void, anger, disbelief. You just miss your child every day," she said. "It's things like this and my boys that I have to get up. I have to get up and I have to keep pushing."
Moving forward, Rodriguez asks that people support her community and to get out and vote.
"Support. People in Texas, people all around the United States – support. Vote, fight for these children cause today it was mine, tomorrow it could be yours," she said.
When asked why she chose to speak with CBS 11, Rodriguez said she wanted to "finally" push for stricter gun laws and to find answers.
"I want answers why this police department did what they did or actually why they didn't do what they were supposed to do. I know [by] staying quiet in the comfort of my home just grieving my daughter, I'm not putting in my part and I'm not doing her any justice by doing that," she said.
But still, every day is a battle for the mom as she navigates life without her daughter and best friend by her side.
"I still ask her every day, I ask her to come back," Rodriguez said. "I ask her the unimaginable but sometimes I just can't bare the pain and I ask her to come back to me. And I just tell her, 'Please, I'll do anything. Just come back.'"
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