Still facing nightmares, Uvalde survivor Miah Cerrillo, 11, will testify at House hearing on guns

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Still facing nightmares, Uvalde survivor Miah Cerrillo, 11, will testify at House hearing on guns

WASHINGTON – Miah Cerrillo, a fourth grader who smeared herself with her murdered friend’s blood to play dead and stay alive during last month's mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, should be two weeks into her summer vacation.

Instead, the 11-year-old will be a star witness Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill, testifying before a House committee and becoming the face of a nationwide gun control debate.

A spokesperson for the House Oversight and Reform Committee said Tuesday that Miah and the parents of mass shooting victims will not face questions from the panel, though some other witnesses will. She will tell her story as lawmakers face mounting pressure to respond to burgeoning gun violence across the country.

Miah's testimony comes while she is still healing from bullet fragments lodged in her back and wrestling with the aftershocks of trauma, according to her father, Miguel Cerrillo.

"She's not doing that good," he said to USA TODAY in a phone interview Monday.

Miah is having nightmares and managing other side effects of being in a classroom when 18 classmates and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman.

"We're taking it day by day," Cerrillo said.

House holds hearing on gun violence 

Messages are seen on a sign left at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed.
Messages are seen on a sign left at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed.

Miah will demonstrate a resolve beyond her years when she testifies on Capitol Hill at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Giving testimony before Congress can be daunting for adults, let alone a child experiencing trauma.

But Cerrillo said his daughter wants to appear in person and explain what she experienced because "she wants to make safer schools."

He doesn't know Miah's full story and may learn it along with the rest of America on Wednesday  – her first address on a national stage. She hasn't really talked to him about her trauma, he said. Miah has mostly talked to her mother about it, and he's following a therapist's advice to let her come to them when she's ready.

The House committee also will hear from parents who lost a daughter in Uvalde, the mother of an adult child who was injured in the shooting last month in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde's sole pediatrician, gun advocates and others. But Miah's testimony is expected to be the most emotional.

House hearing: Uvalde and Buffalo survivors, families to testify before House Oversight committee on mass shootings

Cerrillo knows some of the most harrowing parts of his daughter's story, as do those who have donated more than $468,000 to Miah's GoFundMe. He said he has no idea how his daughter had the ingenuity to smear blood on herself to play dead. He doesn't know how she summoned the strength to move through a schoolroom of dead classmates to get a teacher's phone and call 911.

Miah called for help, maybe begged for help, but help was slow to come.

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He knows she has demonstrated a level of intuitiveness ahead of her time, but he doesn't know how. Was it a survival instinct? "I don't know."

Cerrillo also doesn't know what to expect out of the hearing. His daughter is scheduled to testify and leave. There were no meetings set up with other lawmakers on the Hill as of Monday night. He doesn't know what questions will be asked. Nobody has told him how the committee will handle a sensitive witness who is still grappling with the trauma that unfolded May 24 in Uvalde.

"We're not too sure yet," he said.

Multiple committee members and spokespeople for the committee did not immediately respond to questions about how they were preparing Miah for the hearing. They did not immediately answer whether there were any concerns about having someone so young, who just suffered a recent and severe trauma, take the stage in a public forum of this kind.

Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney said Democrats are holding the hearing to examine solutions to the gun violence epidemic and hear directly from those affected by it.

"The nightmare of mass shootings has to end," she said in a statement Monday afternoon. "We will hear directly from those impacted by recent mass shootings. They want action and so do I."

'It's not her responsibility'

Wendy Ellis, assistant professor and director of the Center for Community Resilience at George Washington University, is concerned Wednesday's hearing could further traumatize Miah. Ellis specializes in adverse childhood experiences and trauma.

"We have a real problem in wanting to make her the poster child of this," Ellis said. "This child needs adults to step up and do the work. It shouldn’t be on the shoulders of a child. For her to become the face of this effort is not right. It's not her responsibility."

Mourners pay their respects on May 27, 2022, at a memorial for the children and teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.
Mourners pay their respects on May 27, 2022, at a memorial for the children and teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.

Ellis is concerned that Miah is being asked to relive her trauma and that her testimony is unlikely to move members of Congress from their entrenched political positions.

For example, though both the House and Senate have a Democratic majority, Democrats need at least 10 Republicans to join them in defeating a filibuster and change gun laws. Senators are negotiating but haven't reached a deal yet. The House is poised to pass gun control measures along party lines, but they can't become law without Senate approval.

If Miah can't accomplish her goal of making safer schools, Ellis wonders if it could traumatize her more by adding guilt and trauma because she couldn't create change in a mostly gridlocked Congress.

"We as adults collectively need to step up and solve this issue," Ellis said. "A fourth grader isn't responsible for stopping school shootings."

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Uvalde survivor Miah Cerrillo will address House panel on gun violence