“I don’t want it to happen again.”
That is what 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, a survivor of last month’s deadly mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, told United States lawmakers on Wednesday morning, as she described terrifying moments inside her classroom at Robb Elementary School – and what she did to stay alive.
“He shot my friend that was next to me and I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed her blood and I put it all over me,” Cerrillo said in a video played during a congressional committee hearing on gun violence.
“[I] just stayed quiet and then I got my teacher’s phone and called 911. I told [the 911 operator] that we need help, and to send the police in our classroom.”
Cerrillo, her father Miguel and other victims of gun violence in the US made impassioned pleas for gun control during the emotional hearing in Washington, DC, demanding concrete action from legislators to prevent future mass shootings.
The May 24 attack in Uvalde, Texas – which left 19 schoolchildren and two teachers dead – has fuelled widespread calls for stricter gun laws, including from US President Joe Biden, who last week told lawmakers that it is “time to act”.
But despite the horrors of Uvalde and other deadly mass shootings, Congress has been unable to pass reforms amid staunch opposition from Republican legislators and powerful gun lobby groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“She’s everything, not only for me, but [for] her siblings and her mother,” Miah’s father Miguel Cerrillo told the House Oversight and Reform Committee, in tears.
“I wish something will change, not only for our kids, but every single kid in the world – because schools are not safe any more,” he said. “Something needs to really change.”
That was echoed by Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter Lexi Rubio was killed in the Uvalde attack.
Rubio recounted that Lexi received a good citizenship award, and was recognised for getting good grades, during a ceremony at Robb Elementary on the morning of the shooting.
She said they promised to go for ice cream that evening to celebrate, told her daughter they loved her, and said they would pick her up after school. “I left my daughter at that school and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life,” Rubio told the committee.
“Today, we stand for Lexi and as her voice, we demand action.”
Rubio said she wants a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. She urged legislators to raise the minimum age to buy such weapons from 18 to 21 years old; to pass red-flag laws and enact stricter background checks, and to repeal gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.
“Somewhere out there, there is 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,” she said.
In the wake of the Uvalde attack, some Republican legislators have been diverting discussions on gun control to focus on school safety measures and the tools available to law enforcement.
Republican Congressman Richard Hudson this week introduced legislation that would provide $2bn to hire school resource officers and guidance counsellors. It would also allocate $5bn “for hardening schools, active shooter training and training law enforcement, school officials and students to intervene before a student reaches a breaking point”.
“Republicans have come to the table with real solutions,” Hudson told reporters during a news conference on Wednesday before a debate in the US House of Representatives on proposed gun laws.
But gun control advocates have said the problem is linked to easy access to firearms in the US.
Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was shot and injured in a deadly attack last month on a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York, testified on Wednesday about the urgent need for gun control.
“Children should not be armed with weapons. Parents who provide their children with guns should be held accountable. Lawmakers who continuously allow these mass shootings to continue by not passing stricter gun laws should be voted out,” Everhart told the committee.
“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 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. This should not be your story, or mine.”