Miah’s shrug and the unbearable weight of gun violence

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The adults who testified at Wednesday’s hearing on gun violence cried and shuddered and yelled. These men and women, who had been affected by the recent shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., fought to speak through their tears. They clenched their jaws in outrage. They spoke of racism and the deification of the Second Amendment and the country’s willful denial of its true nature. Some witnesses were indignant. Others were rendered nearly mute as the dam burst from the magnitude of their grief.

Meanwhile, the little girl who survived the Uvalde shooting shrugged off her pain. She punctuated that stoicism with silence. And nothing could have been more heartbreaking.

Miah Cerrillo, 11, lived through the terror that unfolded at Robb Elementary School last month when a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. With the support of her parents and her pediatrician, she recorded a video describing for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform the events of that day. Miah was positioned in front of an orange and blue backdrop wearing a tank top adorned with three sunflowers. Her hair was pulled back from her face and her eyeglasses were perched on her nose as she looked into the camera and responded to an unseen interviewer.

Her video lasted only a couple of minutes, but that was more than enough time to communicate the magnitude of the gore. The gunman had fired into her classroom. He shot her teacher in the head. Hey shot students. He shot the friend next to her. “And I thought he was going to come back to the room. So I grabbed the blood and I put it all over me, and …”

Miah’s voice trailed off until she stopped speaking altogether. She did not cry or wince or hiccup with anger. She shrugged. It was a gesture that was tragically simple and yet so complicated because it raises the question: Why?

The country has no answers for why it has allowed the weight of its fears, phobias, selfishness and racism to rest on the narrow shoulders of children. It’s a wonder Miah even had the strength to raise them in this gesture of resignation.

She was prompted to continue, and so she explained that after camouflage herself with blood, she “just stayed quiet.” She took her teacher’s phone, and she called 911 for help. While law enforcement eventually broke into the classrooms and killed the gunman and escorted the children out, lasting help from legislators has yet to arrive.

Neither heroes nor cowards

The panelists had a lot to talk about because the breadth of the country’s dysfunction is vast. Some of the men and women who tested sat at the standard long wood table inside one of the chambers of the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill and read their remarks into a microphone. Others told their story by video conference. Zeneta Everhart described her good-natured and buoyant son Zaire Goodman, who was wounded by a man charged with the racist killing of 10 Black shoppers at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo. She spoke of his injuries — the hole in his neck and his back. Everhart, who is Black, underscored her belief that America is a country rooted in violence and guns, reminding all who were listening that “my ancestors [were] the first currency of America.” She pleaded for a fuller accounting of Black Americans’ contributions to this country; she reminded them that Black history is American history and should not be whitewashed. She told legislators that “I do not feel protected” and demanded that they do their job. She sniffled and paused frequently to contain emotions that threatened to derail her intentions.

Kimberly and Felix Rubio testified remotely about their daughter Lexi, who was a student at Robb. Kimberly did all the talking, mostly through tears. Felix could barely look into the camera as he silently wept. Lexi would have gone to law school. She would have done great things, Kimberly Rubio said.

Lucretia Hughes Klucken spoke at the invitation of the committee’s minority members, which is to say that she was there to argue against increased gun regulations. She, too, had lost a child through gun violence. Her 19-year-old son, Emmanuel, was killed in 2016 by a felon with an illegally obtained gun, she said, with a tone of disgust and anger. In her estimation, enhanced gun regulations would be useless because the ones that already exist didn’t prevent her son’s death.

“We must prepare to be our own first responders,” she shouted. And while her sorrow was palpable, one couldn’t help but imagine a country filled with people who already distrust one another, who already are denying each other’s humanity, who can’t agree on facts, all armed against each other in a storm of grief and anger.

Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician in Uvalde, didn’t lose a child in the shooting, but he knew the ones caught up in the mayhem. He grew up in the small Texas community and even attended Robb Elementary. He remembered seeing Miah at the hospital where he worked. He remembered the blood all over her white Lilo & Stitch shirt. He described the decapitated bodies of two children who had been brought to his hospital. He saw how the bullets from the AR-15-style weapons practically pulverized their bodies.

Do we need to see what the guns do to children?

He told the committee that he became a pediatrician because children are good patients. Children accept the facts of their situation. They do what they’re asked to get better. They don’t have to be cajoled or bullied into making lifestyle changes. Adults, Guerrero said, are stubborn. They deny reality. They think they know better than the data. He asked the legislators to consider themselves the doctors and the country their patient. And he warned them that we are bleeding out. In body and soul. And the children, the most resilient among us, are going numb.

In the last few seconds of Miah’s recorded remarks, she was asked whether she felt safe at school. She shook her head no. “I don’t want it to happen again,” she said. But considering where the country stands, stuck and stymied on significant gun regulation, it will probably happen again.

“Somewhere out there, there is a mom listening to our testimony thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain,’ not knowing that our reality will be hers one day, unless we act now,” Kimberly Rubio said. Another massacre will surely happen, in a school or a grocery store, somewhere. And if the legislators have grown deaf to the wailing grief of adult survivors, perhaps they will be stirred by the awful uncertainty, detachment and brutal indifference in a child’s shrug.

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