By Marian Wright Edelman
“He went there and shot my teacher—and told my teacher good night and shot her in the head. And then he shot some of my classmates . . . I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed the blood and put it all over me.”
This was from the devastating video testimony 11-year-old Uvalde, Texas fourth grader Miah Cerillo shared with Congress on June 8. Miah was describing how she witnessed her teacher and classmates being murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, and how she survived the mass shooting by smearing herself with blood from the friend who had been killed next to her and then staying very quiet. Once again, as a nation we have allowed our children’s nightmares to become real. Will this be the time we finally act to protect children, not guns?
Miah was the youngest of a group of survivors, family members, and witnesses who testified at this week’s Congressional hearing on the gun violence crisis to explain how gun violence has changed their lives forever. Miah’s pediatrician, Dr. Roy Guerrero, opened his own testimony by saying: “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 of Uvalde, to stay silent would have betrayed that oath. Inaction is harm. Passivity is harm. Delay is harm.”
Dr. Guerrero explained that he attended Robb Elementary School as a child. He has been Miah’s doctor since she was born, including when she survived liver surgery as an infant, and he was grateful to recognize her at Uvalde Memorial Hospital the day of the shooting and see she had survived. But he also attended to two of her murdered classmates, and he described how their bodies had been so badly destroyed by the assault weapon that killed them that the blood-spattered cartoon characters on the clothes they had been wearing when they left home that morning were the only visible clues left to the children’s identities. Dr. Guerrero told the committee:
“I chose to be a pediatrician. I chose to take care of children. Keeping them safe from preventable diseases I can do. Keeping them safe from bacteria and brittle bones I can do. But making sure our children are safe from guns, that’s the job of our politicians and leaders. In this case, you are the doctors and our country is the patient. We are lying on the operating table, riddled with bullets like the children of Robb Elementary and so many other schools. We are bleeding out and you are not there. My oath as a doctor means that I signed up to save lives. I do my job. I guess it turns out that I am here to plead. To beg. To please, please do yours.”
The House responded later the same day by passing the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” a gun violence legislation package that includes raising the age to buy some automatic rifles from 18 to 21, establishing new federal offenses for gun trafficking and selling large-capacity magazines, incentivizing and regulating safe gun storage, and strengthening regulations on bump stocks and ghost guns. This package passed with bipartisan votes in the House, but is unlikely to be able to make any progress in the Senate. But there is still hope the Senate will make progress on some form of gun violence prevention in the days ahead. Any first step is a desperately needed step away from inaction and passivity and towards doing something to protect children instead of guns.
Uvalde fourth grader Lexi Rubio’s parents Kimberly and Felix also appeared before Congress on June 8. Kimberly Rubio described how they last saw Lexi on the morning of the shooting when they attended the school’s awards ceremony, where Lexi was recognized for earning all A’s and winning the “Good Citizen” award. As Lexi headed back to class, they promised they would celebrate that night by going out for ice cream, told her they loved her, and told her they would pick her up after school. Instead, less than a half hour later, the 18-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15-style rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition entered the school and headed for Lexi’s classroom. Kimberly Rubio told the committee:
“We do not want you to think of Lexi as just a number. She was intelligent, compassionate, and athletic. She was quiet. Shy, unless she had a point to make. When she knew she was right, as she so often was, she stood her ground. She was firm, direct, voice unwavering. So, today, we stand for Lexi, and, as her voice, we demand action. We seek a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. We understand that for some reason, to some people, to people with money, to people who fund political campaigns, that guns are more important than children, so at this moment we ask for progress. We seek to raise the age to purchase these weapons from 18 to 21 years of age. We seek red flag laws, stronger background checks. We also want to repeal gun manufacturers’ liability immunity. You have all seen glimpses of who Lexi was, but I also want to tell you a little about who she would have been. If given the opportunity, Lexi would have made a positive change in this world. She wanted to attend St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, on a softball scholarship. She wanted to major in math and go on to attend law school. That opportunity was taken from her. She was taken from us. . . ”
Lexi’s mother concluded: “Somewhere out there, a mom is hearing our testimony and thinking to herself, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain,’ not knowing that our reality will one day be hers—unless we act now.”