Washington (AFP) -
An 11-year-old who smeared herself with her murdered friend's blood to play dead during last month's school shooting in the US state of Texas relived the horror of her ordeal before a panel of lawmakers on Wednesday.
Miah Cerrillo, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, recounted in terrifying detail the moments when 19 of her schoolmates and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman.
She recalled how her class had been watching a movie and scrambled behind their teacher's desk and their backpacks when the shooter burst in.
'He... told my teacher 'goodnight' and then shot her in the head. And then he shot some of my classmates and the white board,' Miah said in a brief but gut-wrenching pre-recorded interview.
'When I went to the backpacks, he shot my friend who was next to me and I thought he was going to come back into the room so I grabbed a little blood and put it all over me.'
Miah recalled how she kept completely silent, before grabbing her dead teacher's cell phone when the moment came and dialing 911.
'I told her that we need help -- and to see the police in our classroom,' she said.
Police in Uvalde have come under intense scrutiny after it emerged that more than a dozen officers waited outside the door of Miah's class and did nothing as the children lay dead or dying.
Miah was asked what she wanted to see happen in the wake of the attack.
'To have security,' she said, confirming that she feared a mass shooter could target her school again.
'I don't want it to happen again,' she said.
- 'Pulverized by bullets' -
Miah is experiencing nightmares and still healing from bullet fragments in her back as she wrestles with trauma, her father, Miguel Cerrillo, told USA Today.
'She's not the same little girl I used to play with,' he told the committee.
Miah's testimony comes with Congress facing mounting pressure to respond to out-of-control gun violence -- and particularly mass shootings -- across the country.
Massacres at Miah's school and days earlier at a supermarket in Buffalo, in upstate New York, have convulsed the nation, reigniting urgent calls for gun safety reforms.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee also heard from relatives of victims in recent mass shootings, including Zeneta Everhart, the mother of a 21-year-old survivor of the racist killing spree that left 10 Black people dead in Buffalo.
'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 from an AR-15,' Everhart told lawmakers.
'As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life. Now I want you to picture that exact scenario for one of your children.'
Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician who attended to several victims in Uvalde, spoke of encountering 'two children whose bodies had been pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been ripped apart.'
- 'Elected to protect us' -
A cross-party group of senators is working on a narrow collection of controls that could develop into their first serious attempt at gun regulation reform in decades.
The package would boost funding for mental health services and school security, narrowly expand background checks, and incentivize states to institute so-called 'red flag laws' enabling authorities to confiscate weapons from individuals considered a threat.
Crucially, the package does not include an assault weapons ban or universal background checks, meaning it will fall short of the expectations of President Joe Biden, progressive Democrats, and anti-gun violence activists.
But even this compromise deal has to run the gauntlet of an evenly divided Senate and earn the votes of at least 10 Republicans, most of whom are against significant regulatory reform.
On the other side of the Capitol, House Democrats are set to pass the much broader package of proposals later Wednesday that includes raising the purchasing age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.
The proposals are going nowhere -- they do not have the 60 votes they would need to advance in the Senate -- but Democratic leadership has been keen to act after the spate of recent mass shootings.
Garnell Whitfield Jr, the son of Buffalo massacre victim Ruth Whitfield, who was 86, testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on white supremacist violence.
'You expect us to continue to forgive and forget over and over again? And what are you doing? You were elected to protect us and protect our way of life,' the retired fire commissioner said in an emotional appeal to senators.