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A father's fury: Uvalde dad Brett Cross is mad as hell and wants you to know it

“Once I stop fighting, I’m going to be useless. I have to keep going."

Brett Cross sits on a bench outside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., a lit cigarette balanced loosely between his fingers.

It's a sunny Sunday afternoon — a slight breeze provides respite for tourists snapping pictures and taking in random facts about 18th century construction.

Cross, 32, doesn't notice any of it.

"The rest of the world will see this as a nice, pretty day," Cross tells "All I see is darkness."

On May 24, 2022, Cross's son, Uziyah "Uzi" Garcia, was shot and killed, along with 18 other children and two adults, inside Robb Elementary School.

"As a parent, you're left with the why? Why?" Cross says, shaking his head and staring into the distance. "It breaks you down and it tears away the sun. There's no light anymore."

'It's not just the mothers. It's the fathers, too'

Cross is not on vacation. The father of seven is attending a sit-in led by gun violence survivors and victims' families, demanding that Congress ban assault weapons.

Brett Cross, holding a picture of his son, Uziyah "Uzi" Garcia. Uzi was killed alongside 18 of his classmates and two teachers inside Robb Elementary School.
Brett Cross, holding a picture of his son, Uziyah "Uzi" Garcia. Uzi was killed alongside 18 of his classmates and two teachers inside Robb Elementary School.Courtesy Brett Cross

Cross says his fight for gun reform keeps him upright.

"Anger drives me," he says. "Once I stop fighting, I'm going to be useless. I have to keep going.

"It doesn't hurt that Texas keeps telling us 'no' and screws us over all the time," he adds, chuckling. "So I've got more than enough anger."

In February, Texas House Bill 2744 was introduced — it would have raised the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. It was championed by many Uvalde victims' families. The man who shot their children to death was 18 years old. Governor Greg Abbott called it "unconstitutional."

The bill never made it to a vote.

"We have a lot of people who know and talk to these guys," Cross says, pointing to the Capitol Building. "We also need people to raise hell.

"When you see a pissed off dad, you're going to remember that."

Cross's wife of 16 years, Nikki Cross, says she has seen her husband change.

"He's become more ... I don't want to say angry, but we're all very angry," Nikki Cross, 38, who also attended the sit-in, tells "He's very focused on changing things.

"He also feels guilty," she continues. "Brett feels the need to take care of all children because we already lost our son — there's nothing we can do that’s going to bring Uzi back. Ever."

Brett Cross at sit in in DC
Brett Cross at a survivor-led sit-in for gun reform outside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.Courtesy Caitlin Moore Photography

The mom of seven says there are moments when she knows her husband needs to rest — Uzi's absence, at times, is too much to bear.

"We become numb to a lot of things, but when another father is talking about the loss of their child he steps or walks away, and at night when things slow down ... he has his moments," Nikki Cross says. "In this society, men are raised to be tough, brave, to be strong; 'You don’t cry, you’re the one who holds it all together.'

"But these fathers ... they are literally missing pieces of their soul," she adds. "It's not just the mothers. It's the fathers, too."

'I still have to be the rock'

Cross is not Uzi's biological father, but the boy was very much his son. Uzi was Nikki Cross's nephew. After staying with the Cross family for the summer when he was 4, Uzi lived with various caregivers before going back to Brett and Nikki, who became his legal guardians after he turned 10.

"It's one of the reasons why I love him," Nikki Cross says of her husband.

"When I met him I had three kids already ... he just dove right into fatherhood," she continues. "The love in our hearts, that’s what makes us family. That's what makes us parents."

Cross was raised by his mother and grandmother, his father's absence serving as a reminder of everything he didn't want to be.

As Uzi's dad, he says he learned how to be patient. He misses how loud Uzi was, adding that now "there's just silence."

"I miss hollering at Uzi to quiet down; to go to bed; to 'quit playing," Cross says. "I miss saying: 'You didn't take the trash out like you're supposed to — dude, come on, you got one chore.' You miss the small things."

Brett Cross
Brett Cross stands near a memorial for his son in the Uvalde town square. Without him, he says, "there's just silence."Jordan Vonderhaar for NBC News

Uzi was shot by a former Robb Elementary student armed with an AR-15. The bullet entered Uzi's back, tore through his spine and blew out his stomach.

The horrid details are something Cross wants people to know — he has a tattoo of a bullet hole on his back, at the very spot where Uzi was shot.

"I'm a 220 pound, grown man. Imagine what it looks like on a 60 pound, 10-year-old boy," Brett says. "I hope it haunts (politicians) ... then again, they might not care."

Brett vividly recalls the moment he was told Uzi was killed — his wife made a sound he says he's "never going to forget."

"My first question was: "Where's that son of a b----? Because I'm going to kill him,'" he says of the shooter. "They said: 'He's dead.' And well, I still have to be dad. I still have to be the rock."

It took days before Cross was allowed to see Uzi's body.

"Everybody says they look like they're sleeping — he looked like he was dead," he says, tears pooling at the edges of his eyes. "Seeing him the first time was the gift of finality — it didn't feel real, so I'd sit by the door and wait for him. But when I saw him, it was definite. He looked like himself, he just didn't have a stomach."

Weeks later, Cross saw Uzi one last time before his funeral. With so many victims, the funerals had to be carefully scheduled, and he was the last one laid to rest.

"He didn't look like himself," Cross says. "He had a spray tan from hell. His nose wasn't his nose ... his cartilage had started deteriorating. I saw my boy decaying.

"I can't get that image out of my head," he continues, pausing to fight back tears. "That wasn't him."

Cross credits his wife and surviving children for giving him a reason to continue living.

Brett Cross in DC at sit in
Brett Cross, Nikki Cross and other gun violence prevention advocates at a recent seven-day sit-in outside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.Courtesy Caitlin Moore Photography

"If I can make it through the next 60 seconds, the next hour, the next day, I'm good. The only way that I survive right now is because of my other kids," he adds. "Had Uzi been my only child, I would have killed myself."

He says he has no idea how he’ll spend his second Father’s Day since the shooting. “I don’t make plans.”

'Maybe it's time for a Father's Demand Action'

Visions of his deceased son kept Brett Cross under water for weeks after the shooting.

When he came up for air, he looked at what other parents who had lost children to gun violence were doing. He found Manuel "Manny" Oliver, who lost his 17-year-old son, Joaquin, in the 2018 Parkland shooting.

In Manny, Brett says he saw himself.

"He is 100% himself, 100% unique and 100% that pissed off dad that you don't want to f--- with," Cross says. "I'm the same, and it helps to know that I'm not a trailblazer in this ... I mean, this man got buses and took them to Ted Cruz's house! That's a man without something to lose. I know that feeling."

Oliver recalls seeing Cross on the news.

"He was the first parent I saw who was really pissed off," Oliver tells "I knew that we had something in common ... It inspires me ... You feel that you're not alone."

Brett Cross speaking in DC
Brett Cross, speaking at a rally for gun legislation.Courtesy Caitlin Moore Photography

Oliver acknowledges dads can be "a little messy," and says perhaps men should network like the women behind Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention advocacy group.

"Women are a little more organized," he adds. "Maybe it's time for a Fathers Demand Action."

Cross says he "apologized" when he first met Oliver for not being politically active after Sandy Hook, Parkland, Sante Fe and the many other shootings that preceded the Robb Elementary massacre.

"They turned around and apologized to me, saying: 'I'm sorry we couldn't do more,'" he says. "Now I have parents coming to me saying 'I’m sorry,' and I'm the one saying 'I'm sorry I couldn't do more.' It's a never-ending cycle."

'I don't fear anything anymore'

If dads are going to battle over gun control, Cross is ready.

Facing what he says are death threats and online harassment — including people telling him "Uzi deserved to die" — Cross says he will continue advocacy work with righteous indignation until he joins Uzi in the afterlife.

Brett Cross
Brett Cross sits near a memorial for his son Uzi. He says he knows his fight for gun laws might make him a target. He's OK with that.Jordan Vonderhaar for NBC News

"I don't fear anything anymore — not even my own mortality," he says. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to get shot doing this work and I'm OK with that. If that happens, parade me around — let these a------- see."

Cross takes another drag from his cigarette, staring down the Capitol as if it at any moment it will come to life.

His brow furrows as he sizes up his opponent — his hat on backwards with his son's name stitched in the fabric, blazoned across his forehead.

It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon, but all one dad sees is a fight.