‘I don’t want it to happen again’: Texas school shooting survivor pleads with Congress

When the shooter arrived, Miah Cerrillo and her classmates hid behind their teacher’s desk and several backpacks.

The gunman shot Cerrillo’s teacher in the head, the Robb Elementary fourth-grader told a House oversight committee on Wednesday. He shot some of Cerrillo’s classmates, including a friend who was hiding next to her. Cerrillo smeared blood on herself to hide from the shooter, she said via a video recording piped into the panel’s chambers. Then she grabbed her dead teacher’s phone and dialed 911.

“I don’t want it to happen again,” she said.

Cerrillo’s brief recounting of an attack that killed 19 children and two teachers last month marked a wrenching point in an emotional morning of testimony on Capitol Hill, as congressional Democrats convened a hearing on gun violence following mass shootings in a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store and the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Witnesses at the hearing included Felix and Kimberly Rubio, the parents of 10-year-old Lexi Rubio, who died in the school attack. Zeneta Everhart, mother to one of Buffalo’s injured victims, also addressed lawmakers. Roy Guerrero, an Uvalde pediatrician who treated wounded schoolchildren, also testified.

But as national security officials warned future domestic attacks could target schools, churches and public gatherings amid a point of high tension in American politics — and as an array of education organizations clamor for expanded federal gun safety laws — Senate Democrats acknowledge bipartisan negotiations will fall far short of what they want.

“I wish something would change, not only for our kids, but every single kid in the world because schools are not safe anymore,” Cerrillo’s father, Miguel, told committee members through tears before leaving the chamber on Wednesday. “Something needs to really change.”

Conservatives, meanwhile, demanded new efforts to harden school security, calls that echoed responses to prior mass shootings and prompted campus lockdown drills and attack planning. They called for trained school staff to carry firearms and a redoubled focus on mental health, rather than gun control measures they said would violate the Second Amendment.

“Too often tragedies are politicized for partisan gain, and we have seen many seek to leverage these crimes and their victims to push for radical left-wing policies, or to buttress their campaigns to get elected,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the Oversight Committee’s top Republican, said during Wednesday’s hearing.

“Instead of rushing to score political points at the expense of our justice system working properly, we must learn from these senseless acts of violence and take concrete action to reduce violence in the future,” Comer said.

Schools, said Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), “should be hard targets.”

“That means schools across the nation should implement sensible security measures, like keeping doors locked, a single point of entry, better security technology and a volunteer force of well-trained and armed staff in addition to a school resource officer,” he said.

Yet in a grim reminder of the intractable politics surrounding America’s fight over guns, the Department of Homeland Security this week said acts of violence could still occur against a range of targets — including schools — in the coming months.

“Individuals in online forums that routinely promulgate domestic violent extremist and conspiracy theory-related content have praised the May 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and encouraged copycat attacks,” the agency said Tuesday in a national terrorism advisory bulletin.

Others have seized on the event to attempt to “spread disinformation and incite grievances,” DHS said, including claims the school attack was a government-staged event meant to advance gun control measures.

“We understand that — for some reason, to some people, to people with money, to people who fund political campaigns — guns are more important than children,” Kimberly Rubio told lawmakers. “So at this moment, we ask for progress.”

“Somewhere out there, there’s a mom listening to our testimony thinking ‘I can’t even imagine their pain,’ not knowing that our reality will one day be hers,” Rubio said. “Unless we act now.”