Rhonda Hart is grief-stricken and angry, but she is resolved: After her daughter was murdered in last Friday’s mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, she’s now dedicated to fighting for laws to help prevent future school shootings.
In her grief, she is raising her voice against the lawmakers she believes have not done enough to stem gun violence.
“All I want to say is that the wrong child left this world,” she tells PEOPLE. “They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I want to be an advocate.”
Hours after she found out her daughter had been killed, Hart, a 36-year-old Army veteran who works as a school bus driver, took to Facebook, writing, “Folks-call your damn senators. Call your congressmen. We need GUN CONTROL. WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR KIDS.”
Hart says she has called Senator Ted Cruz, a supporter of the National Rifle Association.
“I called him today and left him a message and I said, ‘I’m Kim’s mom and I want to know what you are going to do and here’s my phone number,’ and I’ll keep calling. Every week. Every other day. Whatever I have to do.”
She adds, “They say ‘Thoughts and prayers.’ Well, their thoughts and prayers didn’t save my kid.”
A Mother’s Last Words to Her Daughter
Hart poignantly recalls the last words she exchanged with her daughter: She had just completed her bus route and was saying goodbye to the kids on her bus when she saw Kim, who had arrived to school separately, walking by.
She called out to her daughter, “I love you.”
Then she and Kim flashed the American Sign Language sign for, “I love you,” a ritual they had.
About an hour later, Kim was fatally shot.
Hart recounted the unfolding horror of that morning, when she realized something was horribly wrong: First, when she got an announcement on her driver’s radio to pull over to a safe location, and then a bit later, when she was told to go to the high school and saw ambulances, fire trucks and helicopters.
She could not get in touch with her daughter, and she found out via social media that shots had been fired in first period art class. She knew Kim had first period art class.
“That’s really when I started to lose my marbles,” she says.
The next 10 hours were agonizing. Unsure whether Kim was alive or dead, she went to area hospitals looking for her.
“At one point, I said, ‘I just feel it: I feel in my heart and in my head that she is already gone,’” she recounts, adding, “I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach and I couldn’t shake it.”
She found out her daughter was dead at about 5:30 or 6 p.m., nearly 12 hours after she had told her she loved her.
An Avid Reader, a Girl Scout, a ‘Helper’
When Kim was a small child, she had speech delays and learned sign language, an interest she maintained as a teenager.
The night she was killed, Kim was scheduled to go to the nearby Baybrook Mall for a silent dinner comprised of people with hearing difficulties and kids like Kim who took sign language classes.
“She was all excited that we were going to order our food in sign language,” Hart says.
Hart describes her daughter as kind and giving, a “smart and funny” girl and an avid reader. She loved the Harry Potter books and The Vampire Chronicles series.
She was also very community-minded: She was a Senior Girl Scouts, which she loved “with every fiber of her being,” says Hart. “She was full of love and light and she touched so many lives by being a Girl Scout.”
Kim also loved cats. “Heaven’s got another crazy cat lady,” Hart quipped.
Kim said she wanted to be a video game designer when she grew up, but her mother says she wanted her to keep up with sign language to possibly become an interpreter because it fit her nature as what her mother called a “helper.”
Says Hart, “She is not going to be forgotten down here. She was a force to be reckoned with.”
A GoFundMe page has been launched to help Kimberly Vaughan’s family with expenses related to the tragedy.