WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — House members in Washington heard heartbreaking testimony on Wednesday from families and survivors of the recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York. They courageously shared their stories as they plead the House committee for tougher gun laws.
The hearings this week on Capitol Hill are to show the human toll of America’s gun violence and to urge Congress to act.
Uvalde survivor Miah Cerillo's testimony
Committee members heard from a brave little girl named Miah Cerillo who calmly recounted how her teacher was shot after locking the door and telling her fourth-grade students to hide behind her desk and their backpacks. Miah survived by covering herself in her friend's blood and playing dead.
"When I went to the backpacks, he shot my friend that was next to me, and I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed a little blood and put it all over me and I just stayed quiet,” Miah said in a video recording. "I got my teacher's phone and called 911 … I told her that we need help, and to send the police in our classroom."
As Miah lay there next to the bodies of her classmates and teachers, the police never came. They were waiting in the hallway after being told not to confront the gunman.
Miah said she doesn't feel safe at school anymore and asked for more security.
"I don't want it to happen again."
Miah's father also spoke, saying he was there because he nearly lost his daughter.
“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."
Mother of victim Kimberly Rubio testifies
Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was one of 19 students killed at Robb Elementary, said she and her husband had returned to the school twice that morning for their children's award ceremonies. They said goodbye to Lexi just before 11 a.m., told her they loved her and would pick her up after school for ice cream.
"I left my daughter at that school, and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life," Kimberly said.
After learning about the shootings -- and that their 8-year-old son was safe -- they began a desperate search to find Lexi. They checked bus after bus at the civic center, but there was no sign of Lexi and no one could tell her where she was.
"At this point, some part of me realized she was gone. In the midst of chaos, I had the urge to return to Robb. We didn't have our car. Traffic was... everywhere. I ran. I ran, barefoot, discarding the flimsy sandals I had chosen that morning to compliment my outfit for my children's award ceremonies. I ran a mile, to the school, my husband behind me."
They eventually returned to the civic center where they and other parents received the devastating news that forever changed their lives.
"We understand that for some reason, to some people, to people with money, to people who fund political campaigns, that guns are more important than children, so at this moment we ask for progress," Kimberly said. "We seek to raise the age to purchase these weapons from 18 to 21 years of age. We seek red flag laws, stronger background checks. We also want to repeal gun manufacturers liability immunity."
Dr. Roy Guerrero's testimony
(WARNING: Contains graphic testimony)
The most difficult testimony to hear came from Dr. Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician who treated the young shooting victims at Uvalde Memorial Hospital.
"I raced to the hospital to find parents outside yelling children’s names in desperation and sobbing as they begged for any news related to their child. Those mother’s cries I will never get out of my head," Dr. Guerrero told the committee.
But it was seeing the lifeless young victims that will forever haunt him. Images that "no prayer will ever relieve."
"Two children, whose bodies had been so pulverized by the bullets fired at them, over and over again, whose flesh had been so ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities were the blood spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them. Clinging for life and finding none."
He too had harsh words for the politicians who have failed to act.
"Innocent children all over the country today are dead because laws and policy allows people to buy weapons BEFORE they’re legally even old enough to buy a pack of beer. They are dead because restrictions have been allowed to lapse. They’re dead because there are no rules about where guns are kept. Because no one is paying attention to who is buying them," the doctor said. "The thing I can’t figure out is whether our politicians are failing us out of stubbornness or passivity or both."
Republicans resistant to change
But even as some lawmakers shed tears alongside the panelists, the hearing displayed the contentious debate over gun control Congress has faced over and over again surrounding mass shootings. Several Republicans on the panel turned the conversation to the individuals who abuse guns and how “hardening schools" could help protect them.
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.
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. But it does allow Democratic lawmakers a chance to frame for voters in November where they stand on policies that polls show appeal to a majority of voters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.