By Farnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 prerecorded 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.
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.
It was the second day lawmakers heard wrenching testimony on the nation’s gun violence. On Tuesday, a Senate panel heard from the son of an 86-year-old woman killed when a gunman opened fire in a racist attack on Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, on May 14. Ten people died.
In the video Wednesday, Miah’s father, Miguel Cerrillo, asked his daughter if she feels safe at school anymore. She shook her head no.
“Why?” he asks. “I don’t want it to happen again,” she responds.
The testimony at the House Oversight Committee came as lawmakers work to strike a bipartisan agreement on gun safety measures in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the panel’s chairwoman, called the hearing to focus on the human impact of gun violence and the urgency for gun control legislation.
“I am asking every member of this committee to listen with an open heart to the brave witnesses who have come forward to tell their stories about how gun violence has impacted their lives,” Maloney said. “Our witnesses today have endured pain and loss. Yet they are displaying incredible courage by coming here to ask us to do our jobs.”
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 victims and survivors 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.”
“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.”
Also testifying was Zeneta Everhart, whose 20-year-old son Zaire was wounded in the Buffalo mass shooting.
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.”
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 where she had been recognized as an A-student. To celebrate, they had promised to get her ice cream.
To get to the elementary school after the shooting, Kimberly Rubio 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.”
After the hearing was over, the Democratic-led House passed 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.
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.
Chairwoman Maloney ended the lengthy hearing Wednesday telling the loved ones of the victims and survivors that the committee’s work on this topic will continue. Days after the Uvalde shooting the committee launched an investigation into five leading manufacturers of the semi-automatic weapons used in both the recent shootings.
“Over the last few days, the committee has received information from these companies that is very troubling,” Maloney said. “I also intend to hold a second hearing to hear directly from the gun industry, so they can explain to the American people why they continue to sell the weapons of choice for mass murderers.”
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting