An 11-year-old girl who survived the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, recounted in video testimony to Congress on Wednesday how she covered herself with a dead classmate’s blood to avoid being shot and “just stayed quiet.”
Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary School, told lawmakers in a pre-recorded video that she watched a teacher get shot in the head before looking for a place to hide.
“I thought he would come back so I covered myself with blood,” Miah told the House panel. “I put it all over me and I just stayed quiet.” She called 911 using the deceased teacher's phone and pleaded for help.
In the video Wednesday, Miah's father, Miguel Cerillo, asks his daughter if she feels safe at school anymore. She shook her head no.
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“Why?" he asks. “I don't want it to happen again,” she responds.
Nineteen children and two teachers died when an 18-year-old gunman opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle inside Robb Elementary School on May 24.
Parents of victims and survivors of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde appeared before a House committee Wednesday and implored lawmakers not to let their children’s deaths and pain be in vain. After Miah spoke, her father told lawmakers that he testified because “I could have lost my baby girl.”
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“But she is not the same little girl that I use to play with,” Cerrillo said. “Schools are not safe anymore. Something needs to really change.”
The panel also heard testimony from the mother of a 20-year-old man who was wounded in the mass shooting at Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
Zeneta Everhart told lawmakers it was their duty to draft legislation that protects Zaire and other Americans. She said that if they did not find the testimony moving enough to act on gun laws, they had an invitation to go to her home to help her clean her son’s wounds.
“My son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back, and another on his left leg,” she said, then paused to compose herself. “As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life. Now I want you to picture that exact scenario for one of your children.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, opened the hearing by calling mass shootings a "uniquely American tragedy."
“Some of my colleagues across the aisle have blamed this violence on mental illness. They have blamed violent video games. They have blamed family values. They have even blamed doors,” Ms. Maloney said. “They have blamed everything but guns.”
Maloney called for a ban on assault weapons, arguing that the "Second Amendment does not protect the right to own a weapon of war."
But even as some lawmakers shed tears alongside the witnesses, the hearing displayed the contentious debate over gun control Congress has faced repeatedly after mass shootings. Several Republicans turned the conversation to the individuals who abuse guns and how “hardening schools" could help protect students.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who owns a gun store, said that one of the things he learned in his military service was that “the harder the target you are, the less likely you will be engaged by the enemy.” He called on schools to keep doors locked, provide a single point of entry and “a volunteer force of well-trained and armed staff, in addition to a school resource officer.”
The parents of Lexi Rubio, who died in her classroom in Uvalde, also testified. Felix and Kimberly Rubio recounted finding out about their daughter's death hours after leaving Lexi's school awards ceremony on the morning of May 24.
Kimberly Rubio, a reporter, said she began writing about a new business in town when the office started hearing about a shooting near the elementary school. She said she ran barefoot for a mile with her sandals in her hand and with her husband by her side. A firefighter eventually gave them a ride back to the civic center.
“Soon after we received the news that our daughter was among the 19 students and two teachers that died as a result of gun violence,” she said, fighting through tears.
She said that Lexi would have made a positive change in the world if she had been given the chance.
“Somewhere out there, there’s a mom listening to our testimony, thinking I can’t even imagine their pain, not knowing that our reality will one day be hers unless we act now,” Kimberly Rubio said.
Dr. Roy Guerrero described in stark terms the carnage he witnessed at the local hospital as he tried to treat the injured. He went to the area of the hospital where two dead children had been taken. The bodies were so pulverized, he said, “that the only clue to their identities was the blood-splattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them, clinging for life and finding none.”
The hearing comes a day after the son an 86-year-old woman killed in the racist Buffalo mass shooting delivered emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose mother was the oldest of the 10 Buffalo victims, challenged Congress Tuesday to act against the "cancer of white supremacy” and the nation's epidemic of gun violence.
“What are you doing? You were elected to protect us,” Whitfield Jr. told the panel.
The Democratic-led House is expected to pass legislation that would raise the age limit for purchasing a semi-automatic rifle and prohibit the sale of ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.
But the legislation has almost no chance of becoming law as the Senate pursues negotiations focused on improving mental health programs, bolstering school security and enhancing background checks. The House bill does allow Democratic lawmakers a chance to frame for voters in November where they stand on policies that polls show appeal to a majority.
But one thing that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to agree on is that inaction is not an option.
“We know we won’t get it all done at once,” Schumer said Tuesday afternoon. “But the American people want us to get something done and they want to see Republicans do something.”
His counterpart across the aisle seemed to echo the sentiment. “Almost everybody would like to get an outcome,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. “I hope we’ll have one sooner rather than later.”
Majorities of U.S. adults think mass shootings would occur less often if guns were harder to get, and that schools and other public places have become less safe than they were two decades ago.