Miah Cerrillo used to spend her days playing with her family’s dogs and making TikTok videos, relishing the simple joys of being an 11-year-old.
“This is not our Miah. This is not our TikTok dancer. This is not our playful Miah, you know? This is not our Miah,” her father, Miguel Cerrillo, said in an interview moments after he briefly testified at the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on gun violence Wednesday. “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’s way different now.”
Miah was set to testify in person before House members, who voted late Wednesday on a package of gun measures in response to the recent mass shooting in Buffalo and Uvalde. But the realization of bright lights and camera clicks — things that now serve as psychological triggers for her — led Miah to break down. Instead, her father spoke briefly to the House panel after video of Miah describing the shooting played in the hearing room.
Nineteen students and two teachers were killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School. Miah survived by smearing her best friend’s blood over her body and playing dead. In the prerecorded video, Miah, wearing glasses and a tank top that said “Live by the sun,” recounted how 18-year-old Salvador Ramos came into her classroom and shot her teacher before turning his AR-15-style rifle on her friends.
“He shot my friend that was next to me and I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed the blood and put it all over me,” she recounted.
The brief testimony encapsulated the anguish felt by many across the country after a series of mass shootings in recent weeks almost a decade after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The Uvalde shooting has reignited negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators, who have expressed desire to break the logjam that has long plagued efforts to address gun violence.
Miah’s testimony was coupled with that of others who have been touched by gun violence, including Zeneta Everhart, whose son was wounded in last month’s shooting in Buffalo, and Miah’s pediatrician, Roy Guerrero.
Felix and Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed in Uvalde, testified via Zoom. Kimberly, speaking through tears just two days before she will lay her daughter to rest, recalled saying goodbye to Lexi after celebrating her winning the “Good Citizens Award” at school the day she was killed.
“We told her we loved her, and we would pick her up after school. I can still see her, walking with us toward the exit,” she said. “I left my daughter at that school, and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) wiped away tears as others shook their head in disbelief.
In an emotional plea, Rubio asked Congress to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, raise the age to buy a gun to 21, expand background checks and incentivize the nationwide use of red-flag laws.
“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,” she said as a single tear rolled down her husband’s cheek.
Another grieving mother, however, disagreed with the 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 firearm. She expressed pessimism that any laws could have changed the outcome, calling lawmakers “delusional.”
“How about letting me defend myself from evil?” said Hughes, who is Black. “I am a walking testimony of how the criminal justice system and the gun control laws, which is steeped in racism by the way, have failed the Black community.”
Cerrillo, in an interview with The Washington Post, could not put into words the luck he and his family feel to have Miah walk out of the school a survivor. But as he watched her prerecorded video from the hearing room, he wiped away tears.
He did not see her on the screen, a bespectacled little girl in a tank top adorned with bright yellow sunflowers. Instead, he kept flashing back to the first time he laid eyes on her as she evacuated Robb Elementary “covered in blood, scared for her life.”
Cerrillo recalled receiving a notification on Facebook from the police department and sheriff’s office pages he follows alerting him that there was an active shooter around his daughter’s school. He called his wife, who had just dropped Miah off after taking her to see Guerrero, her pediatrician, for an ear infection.
Around that time, Miah was hiding behind her teacher’s desk near stacks of backpacks. She recalled that after the gunman entered an adjoining classroom, he stepped into theirs and immediately shot her teacher in the head before shooting several classmates. Before leaving the room, he shot her best friend sheltering next to her.
“I just stayed quiet and then I got my teacher’s phone and called 911. I told her that we need help and to send the police in our classroom to have security,” Miah testified.
Republicans spent a majority of their speaking time at the hearing arguing that more law enforcement officers were necessary to protect schools and quickly respond to threats. But Uvalde parents questioned whether that’s the answer. After trying to retrieve his daughter as she walked onto a school bus during the evacuation, Cerrillo faced the barrel of a rifle held by a police officer who was telling him and other parents to get away.
“I told him, ‘What, you’re big and bad with that assault rifle, but why you didn’t go in there and save the little kids?’” he said. “They were ready to shoot parents instead of taking care of the shooter.”
Guerrero, the Uvalde pediatrician, testified he will never forget the “desperation and sobbing” he heard from parents gathered outside of the hospital.
When he reached the emergency room, Guerrero said, he immediately ran into Miah, who was sitting in shock in the hallway, her whole body shaking.
“The white Lilo and Stitch shirt she wore was covered in blood and her shoulder was bleeding from a shrapnel injury. Sweet Miah,” he said during his testimony.
He later recounted the horror of seeing two students in the hospital who were killed at the school.
“Two children, whose bodies had been pulverized by the bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities were the blood-spattered 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 with sadness as he realized his “baby girl” wasn’t there.
“I just want my baby girl the way she was because we could sit and chitchat and play games all day or go run outside. I love when she used to tell me, ‘Dad, you can’t run, you’re fat,’” he said. “It’s not Miah no more. She doesn’t tell me stuff like that. I miss that.”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who used to chair the conservative House Freedom Caucus, accused Democrats of exploiting the girl’s trauma by asking her to testify.
“You just prolonged the agony of that little girl, and for what? Your own political purposes,” he said.
But Miah’s dad said his daughter acknowledged that, as a survivor, her testimony could be powerful enough to promote 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 replaying it in my head. It just hurts me because I could have lost my baby girl,” Cerrillo told The Post on Wednesday.
“We tell her, you know, ‘You have a couple of friends that are still alive,’” he said. “And she tells us, ‘I don’t have friends anymore. All my friends are dead.’”