'I don't feel safe at school': 11-year-old Uvalde survivor fears more shootings; other gun hearing takeaways

Lawmakers are facing mounting pressure to respond to gun violence after mass shootings in Texas and New York gripped the nation last month. One mom called on Congress to act or be "voted out."

  • Miah Cerrillo fears another mass shooting.
  • A Uvalde pediatrician described in graphic detail the horrors of what he saw.
  • A mom said her decision on the day of the Uvalde shooting will haunt her for the rest of her life.
  • The mother of a Buffalo victim invited lawmakers to clean her son's wounds.

WASHINGTON – Survivors of mass shootings and family members of those who died in them gave tearful testimonies Wednesday, imploring Congress to reform the nation's gun laws and put an end to the violence killing Americans in schools, grocery stores, places of worship, medical centers and other public spaces. 

Some of the most powerful words came from Miah Cerrillo, 11, who survived the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas; Kimberly Rubio, the mother of a slain elementary student, who said she's haunted by her decisions that day; Miah's father, Miguel Cerrillo, who testified through tears; and Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician at Uvalde Memorial Hospital who said he is haunted by memories of screams and bloodshed.

"I will never forget what I saw that day," Guerrero said of May 24, when an 18-year-old man armed with an AR-15-style rifle killed 19 students and two teachers. 

Guerrero and 11 other witnesses testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about their experiences during and after mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde and other places. 

Here's some of what we learned:

Miah Cerrillo, 11, fears another mass shooting

Survivor Miah Cerrillo addresses Congress in a  video, recounting the shooting attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Her story is one of ingenuity. The fourth grader had the instincts to smear herself with her slain friend’s blood to play dead and stay alive.

Miah crawled around her dead classmates to get to a teacher's phone and call 911 for help, though help didn’t arrive for more than an hour.

In a prerecorded video, she briefly described that day – how her teacher saw the gunman through the classroom door and told the students to hide. 

Miah and her classmates hid behind the teacher's desk and "behind the backpacks," she said. 

The gunman "shot the little window" in the door and went into an adjoining classroom. 

"He told my teacher, 'Good night,' and shot her in the head," Miah said.

Then, the gunman shot her friend, she said: "I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed the blood and put it all over me."

 Miah said she no longer feels safe at school: “I don’t want it to happen again,” she said, but she fears it will.

Miguel Cerrillo, the father of Miah Cerrillo, an 11-year-old student at Robb Elementary School who survived the mass shooting at the school in Uvalde, TX, preparing to testify before the US House Oversight Committee holding a hearing on gun violence on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Uvalde doctor haunted by what he saw

Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician at Uvalde Memorial Hospital, knew on May 24 that school would be out in two days. 

He expected to treat sprained ankles, scrapes and bruises from summer camp – the type of minor injuries that can be bandaged or soothed by an ice pack.

Instead, he treated wounds from a rifle and saw children who were “decapitated” in the massacre.

The children were "pulverized by bullets fired at them," Guerrero said. Their flesh was "ripped apart" so extensively "that the only clue as to their identities was the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them."

He saw parents sobbing – the mothers’ cries he will never get out of his head.

Dr. Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician from Uvalde, TX, testifies before the US House Oversight Committee holds a hearing on gun violence on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Guerrero went to Robb Elementary. He remembers the joys of school, moving from room to room to see his friends. He remembers the smells of "hamburger Thursday." 

For the survivors of the massacre, warm memories have been replaced by nightmares, he said. 

"I doubt they'll remember the smell of the cafeteria or the laughter ringing in the hallways," he said. "Instead they'll be haunted by the memory of screams and bloodshed, panic and chaos."

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Heartbreaking testimony doesn't appear to change minds on gun policy

Lawmakers face mounting pressure to respond to gun violence. But the prospects of anything beyond modest changes passing a divided Congress are doubtful.

If Wednesday's hearing was any indication, the divisions between Republicans who generally support gun rights and Democrats who want restrictions remain wide.

“Some people want to blame guns; some people want to blame gun manufacturers; some people want to blame, believe it or not, the Constitution; some people want to blame an entire political party. The shooter is the only one to blame," said Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, though he also cited the breakdown of the American family and the rise of social media as factors.

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, launched Wednesday’s hearing by saying she wanted to “examine the destruction and heartbreak” after the massacres, including one in her home state of New York.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, begins the US House Oversight Committee hearing on gun violence on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Maloney said she supports the Second Amendment but not outdated gun laws that allow 18-year-olds to get weapons of war and carry out violent crimes.

She and other Democrats who have majority leadership on the committee want to ban what they call "assault weapons," boost background checks and pass "red flag" laws, which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. Bills that would enact those steps are headed to the House floor.

 All those measures are likely to hit a roadblock in the Senate, where Democrats do not have the 10 Republican votes needed for their bills to survive a filibuster.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., lead a bipartisan group of senators in negotiations on a gun control package that's narrower than what House Democrats want, focusing on red flag laws, mental health and school safety. 

Parents of slain 10-year-old want ban on rifles

Felix and Kimberly Rubio, parents of Lexi Rubio, 10, a victim of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, testify remotely during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence June 8.

Kimberly and Felix Rubio desperately searched for their daughter, Alexandria "Lexi" Rubio, the day she was killed during the Uvalde massacre. 

Kimberly described how she's tormented by her decision that day to leave her daughter at school after an awards ceremony. "I left my children at school, and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life."

The last photo the Rubios have of their daughter was taken at 10:54 a.m. May 24, when the "A" student earned a good citizen award. 

Hours later, Lexi, 10, was among the victims at Robb Elementary. 

Her parents asked House lawmakers to ban the type of military-style rifle used to kill her. 

Tearing up, Kimberly pleaded for lawmakers to not “think of Lexi as just a number. She was intelligent, compassionate and athletic. She was quiet and shy unless she had a point to make.” 

"Somewhere out there, there's a mom listening to our testimony, thinking, I can't even imagine their pain," Kimberly said. "Not knowing our reality will one day be hers, unless we act now.”

Buffalo mom says some lawmakers should be 'voted out'

Zeneta Everhart, the mother of Zaire Goodman, a Tops Friendly Markets worker who was shot and injured in the mass shooting in Buffalo, NY before the US House Oversight Committee holds a hearing on gun violence on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Zeneta Everhart challenged lawmakers who don't think reform is needed to see the damage up close.

She is the mother of Zaire Goodman, 21, a survivor of the mass shooting May 14 in Buffalo, New York, where 10 victims were racially targeted and killed. 

“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 by an AR-15," she told the committee. "As I cleaned his wounds, I could feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life."

Raymond Whitfield, right, reacts as his brother Garnell Whitfield, Jr., of Buffalo, N.Y., not pictured, talks about their mother Ruth Whitfield who was killed in the Buffalo Tops supermarket mass shooting during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic terrorism, Tuesday, June 7, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman, 20, was shot in the neck during the shooting and survived listens at left. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) ORG XMIT: DCJM105

Everhart asked lawmakers to picture that scenario with one of their children. 

"If after hearing from me and the other people testifying here today, does not move you to act on gun laws, I invite you to my home to help me clean Zaire's wounds," she said. 

It's their duty as elected officials, Everhart said, to pass legislation that protects Zaire and other U.S. citizens. 

"Parents who provide their children with guns should be held accountable," Everhart said. Lawmakers who do not support stricter gun laws allow mass shootings to continue, she said, and they “should be voted out."

Poll:Half of Republicans support stricter gun laws, a double-digit jump in a year, USA TODAY/Ipsos poll says

Contributing: Kenneth Tran and Merdie Nzanga

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.