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Miah Cerrillo spent her days playing with her family’s dogs and making TikTok videos, enjoying the simple joys of being an 11-year-old.
After surviving last month’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the little girl is now startled by a dog barking and runs to hide when one of the family’s pets gets too loud.
“That’s not our Miah. This is not our TikTok dancer. That’s not our playful Miah, you know? That’s not our Miah,” her father, Miguel Cerrillo, said in an interview shortly after testifying briefly at Wednesday’s House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on gun violence. “She’s outgoing, but it’s not… it’s not our daughter. It’s not daddy’s little girl anymore. It’s a whole different story. She is very different now.”
Miah was scheduled to testify in person before members of the House of Representatives who were voting late Wednesday on a package of weapons measures in response to the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. But the realization of bright lights and camera clicks — things that now serve as psychological triggers for her — caused Miah to break down. Instead, her father spoke briefly to the House panel after a video of Miah describing the hearing room shooting.
19 students and two teachers were killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting. Miah survived by smearing her best friend’s blood on her body and playing dead. In the recorded video, Miah, who wore glasses and a tank top that read “Live by the sun,” recounted how 18-year-old Salvador Ramos walked into her classroom and shot her teacher before firing his AR-15-style rifle friends aimed at her.
“He shot my friend next to me and I thought he was going to come back into the room, so I took the blood and smeared it on myself,” she said.
The brief testimony summed up the fear many across the country felt following a spate of mass shootings in recent weeks nearly a decade after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut .
The Uvalde shooting has reignited negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators who have expressed a desire to break the deadlock that has long plagued efforts to tackle gun violence.
Miah’s testimony was coupled with testimony from others affected by gun violence, including Zeneta Everhart, whose son was wounded in last month’s Buffalo shooting, and Miah’s pediatrician, Roy Guerrero.
Felix and Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed in Uvalde, testified via Zoom. Kimberly, who spoke through tears just two days before her daughter’s funeral, recalled saying goodbye to Lexi after celebrating at school the day she was killed for serving the “Good Citizens.” Award”.
“We told her we loved her and that we would pick her up after school. I can still see her walking to the exit with us,” she said. “I left my daughter at this school and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.) wiped away tears while others shook their heads in disbelief.
In an emotional plea, Rubio called on Congress to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, raise the age to purchase a gun to 21, expand background checks and incentivize the use of red-flag laws nationwide.
“Somewhere out there a mother hears our testimony and thinks, ‘I can’t even imagine her pain,’ not knowing that one day our reality will be hers if we don’t act now,” she said, through a lone tear rolled down her husband’s cheek.
However, another grieving mother disagreed with panelists who called for Congress to pass more gun control laws. Lucretia Hughes of the DC Project – Women for Gun Rights lost her son in 2016 after a criminal illegally obtained a gun. She expressed pessimism that legislation could have changed the outcome and called the legislature “delusional”.
“How about defending myself against evil?” said Hughes, who is black. “I’m a walking testament to how the criminal justice system and gun control laws, which incidentally are steeped in racism, have failed the black community.”
Buffalo Shooting Victim’s Mother Testifies: ‘That’s Who We Are’
In an interview with The Washington Post, Cerrillo couldn’t put into words the happiness he and his family feel that Miah left school as a survivor. But as he watched her recorded video from the hearing room, he wiped away tears.
He didn’t see her on the screen, a bespectacled little girl in a tank top adorned with bright yellow sunflowers. Instead, he kept reminiscing about the first time he saw her evacuating Robb Elementary “covered in blood and fearing for her life.”
Cerrillo recalled receiving a notification on Facebook from the police and sheriff’s office pages he followed, which alerted him that there was an active gunman near his daughter’s school. He called his wife, who had just dropped Miah off after taking her to Guerrero, her pediatrician, for an ear infection.
Around this time, Miah hid behind her teacher’s desk near stacks of backpacks. She recalled that after entering an adjacent classroom, the gunman walked into her classroom and immediately shot her teacher in the head before shooting several classmates. Before leaving the room, he shot her best friend who was hiding next to her.
“I just kept calm and then I got my teacher’s phone and called 911. I told her we needed help and to send the police to our classroom to be safe,” Miah testified.
Republicans spent much of their speaking time at the hearing arguing that more law enforcement officers are needed to protect schools and respond quickly to threats. But Uvalde’s parents asked if that was the answer. After attempting to retrieve his daughter as she boarded a school bus during the evacuation, Cerrillo was standing in front of the barrel of a gun being held by a police officer who told him and other parents to get out.
“I said to him, ‘What, you’re big and bad with that assault rifle, but why didn’t you go in there and save the little kids?'” he said. “They were willing to shoot parents instead of caring about the shooter.”
Guerrero, Uvalde’s pediatrician, said he would never forget the “despairing and sobbing” he heard from the parents who had gathered outside the hospital.
When he reached the emergency room, Guerrero said, he immediately encountered Miah, who was sitting in the hallway in shock, shaking all over.
“The white Lilo and Stitch shirt she was wearing was covered in blood and her shoulder was bleeding from a shrapnel wound. Sweet Miah,” he said during his testimony.
He later recounted the horror of seeing two students in the hospital who were killed at school.
“Two children, their bodies pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, their flesh torn apart, that the only clue to their identity was the blood-splattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them,” he said of the deceased children.
Cerrillo was finally able to hug Miah when they reunited at the hospital. The happiness he felt was quickly replaced by sadness when he realized his “little girl” wasn’t there.
“I just want my little girl to be who she was because we can sit and chat and play games or run outside all day. I love it when she used to tell me, ‘Dad, you can’t run, you’re fat,'” he said. “It’s not Miah anymore. She doesn’t tell me such things. I miss this.”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, accused Democrats of exploiting the girl’s trauma by asking her to testify.
“You just prolonged this little girl’s torment, and for what? Your own political goals,” he said.
But Miah’s father said his daughter acknowledged that her testimony as a survivor might be strong enough to encourage change.
“She’s a brave little girl and she will always be our brave little girl. But you know, I don’t know, it’s just crazy because I keep repeating it in my head. It only hurts me because I could have lost my little girl,” Cerrillo told The Post on Wednesday.
“We tell her, you know, ‘You have some friends who are still alive,'” he said. “And she tells us, ‘I don’t have any friends anymore. All my friends are dead.'”