On Wednesday morning, survivors, family members of those lost in the recent Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, mass shootings, and other expert witnesses testified before Congress about the urgent need for gun safety legislation to prevent future tragedies.
Among the most gut-wrenching of the testimonies was a pre-recorded message to Congress from 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who says she survived the Uvalde shooting at Robb Elementary School by covering herself in a classmate’s blood and playing dead as the shooter left her classroom to go to another. In her video message, Cerrillo recalls what started as an ordinary school day: Her fourth grade class was watching a movie, and as her teacher went to close the door, she made eye contact with the shooter. Cerrillo then describes how her teacher told her and her classmates to hide and locked the door, but the shooter was able to enter their classroom through a connecting door from an adjacent room.
Cerrillo then witnessed him shoot her teacher in the head and open fire at her classmates—including her friend Elizabeth. “He shot my teacher and told my teacher goodnight, and shot her in the head. He shot some of my classmates.”
“I thought he was going to come back,” Cerrillo said, recounting when the shooter left her classroom, “so I grabbed the blood and put it all over me, just stayed quiet. Then I got my teacher’s phone and called 9-1-1.” Family members of Cerrillo’s have told the New York Times she lay still, covered in her classmate’s blood, for an hour.
Cerrillo then tells Congress that upon calling 9-1-1, she told the dispatcher they “need help.” This piece of her testimony is all the more devastating amid reports that Uvalde police, whose department swallows up 40% of the small town’s budget, stood by outside the school for nearly an hour, because they believed “no children were at risk.” While outside the school, police also stopped parents who tried to rush the classroom to save their kids. Nineteen kids and two adults would be killed before Border Patrol agents eventually entered the school.
Asked what she wants people to know about herself, the day of the shooting, and what she wants to change, Cerrillo says, “To have security,” and tells Congress she doesn’t feel safe at school anymore. “I don’t want it to happen again,” she adds, and nods her head when asked if she thinks a shooting like this could happen again.
Shortly after Cerrillo’s video message was shared with Congress, Felix and Kimberly Rubio, the parents of 10-year-old Uvalde victim Lexi Rubio, testified before Congress about the day of the shooting and how they’d promised Lexi she could have ice cream after school as they dropped her off. Lexi turned around and smiled at them. “I left my daughter at that school,” Kimberly Rubio said. “That decision will haunt me.”
Within hours, the Rubios would be alerted about a shooting at Robb Elementary School, and would never see their daughter alive again. “Today, we stand for Lexi,” Kimberly said of her daughter through tears. “And as her voice, we demand action. We seek a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.We understand for some reason, to some people … that guns are more important than children.”
Before Cerrillo and the Rubios spoke, Congress heard testimony from Dr. Roy Guerrero, the sole pediatrician of Uvalde who treated many of its victims, including Cerrillo. Guerrero told Congress he remains haunted by the screams and cries of the victims, as well as the scale of the injuries he saw on the children that day. At the emergency room, Guerrero recalled seeing children “whose bodies were pulverized,” “decapitated,” and “whose flesh had been ripped apart” by the gunman’s AR-15. “Making sure that our children are safe from guns, that’s the job of politicians and leaders,” he told Congress. “We are bleeding out, and you are not there.”
“I was called here today as a witness—but I showed up because I am a doctor. I swore an oath—an oath to do no harm. After witnessing first hand the carnage in my hometown...to stay silent would have betrayed that oath.”
Survivors and family members of victims of the mass shooting at Tops grocery store, which served a primarily Black neighborhood in Buffalo, also testified before Congress. Zeneta Everhart, the mother of a Buffalo survivor, traced the racist violence of the Buffalo shooting, which had been perpetrated by a gunman who shared a white supremacist manifesto on the internet, to the origins of the US. “America is inherently violent,” she said. “My ancestors brought to America through the slave trade were the first currency of America. … This is exactly who we are.”
She continued: “Let me paint a picture for you: My son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back and another on his left leg. Caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15. As I clean those wounds I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back.” Everhart then called on Congress to take action and ban assault rifles. “You are elected because you have been chosen and are trusted to protect us, but let me say here today, I do not feel protected,” she said. “No citizen needs an AR-15.”
Others who testified include the Buffalo police commissioner, who says the fallen Buffalo police officer had been a “good guy” with a gun, but was no match for “what he went up against: a legal AR-15 with multiple high-capacity magazines.” New York City Mayor Eric Adams also testified, calling for federal action on guns due to an increase of “ghost guns” in his city, or stolen guns that come into the city illegally.
As Congress debates gun safety legislation, and many Republican members continue to reject common-sense, life-saving legislation, it’s worth noting some on the House Oversight Committee overseeing today’s panels couldn’t even look family members of the victims in the eye. The Times reports Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was present in the hearing room for opening statements, but left before witnesses like family members of Uvalde and Buffalo victims gave their emotional testimonies.