Young survivor of Texas school massacre tells U.S. Congress of day's horror

·4 min read

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -An 11-year-old survivor of last month's mass shooting at a Texas elementary school told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday how she desperately acted to save her own life after the gunman shot a friend next to her, saying, "I got the blood and put it all over me."

Miah Cerrillo, 11, and the parents of multiple young Americans killed and wounded in a spate of recent mass shootings testified on Wednesday before a congressional panel as a bipartisan group of senators worked to see if there was any compromise on gun safety that Democrats and Republicans can agree to.

"He told my teacher 'good night' and shot her in the head," Cerrillo said in a pre-taped interview played for the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee.

"And then he shot some of my classmates and the white board," she said, adding: "He shot my friend that was next to me ... and I thought he was going to come back to the room. I got the blood and put it all on me."

The young girl said she fears such violence could happen again at school.

Cerrillo spoke about two weeks after the shooting by an 18-year-old at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 of her classmates and two teachers.

A spate of mass shootings across the United States in recent weeks has killed dozens and sparked the latest round of bipartisan talks in the U.S. Senate.

Her testimony came as the United States has suffered more than 200 mass murders just this year.

While the House since last year has been passing a series of sweeping gun-related reforms that likely would be blocked by Senate Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Reuters she had "trust" in the Senate negotiators and noted the urgency for Congress to act.

With Democrats and Republicans deeply divided on guns, the Senate talks have focused on modest goals including encouraging states to pass "red flag" laws to deny firearms to people judged a risk to themselves or the public and federal funding to improve school security.

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday were haggling over the likely costs of beefing up treatment of mental illnesses that could contribute to gun violence and for funding states' red flag programs, according to senators.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said that while "we're close on a number of these issues," negotiators still have plenty of details to iron out.

During the House hearing, Republicans on the panel vowed to defend the right to keep and bear arms as protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Many of them have objected to proposals such as limiting sales of the assault-style rifles used in the Uvalde massacre and another mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store that killed 10 Black victims.

'DEFEND MYSELF FROM EVIL'

Another witness, Lucretia Hughes of the DC Project Women for Gun Rights, criticized the idea of more gun control laws.

"Y'all are delusional if you think it's going to keep us safe," she said. She added that her 19-year-old son was shot dead in April 2016 by a person with an illegally obtained gun.

"How about letting me defend myself from evil? You don't think that I'm capable and trustworthy to handle a firearm?" Hughes added.

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans favor steps to expand background checks of prospective gun buyers and other moves to rein in spiking gun violence.

But Wednesday's hearings underscored the deep emotions of the debate.

The sobbing parents of one of the dead Uvalde students urged Congress to take tough steps to control gun sales.

"Somewhere out there, there's a mom listening to our testimony ... not knowing that our reality will one day be hers unless we act now," said Kimberly Rubio, mother of murdered daughter Lexi.

The mother of a victim of the Buffalo massacre, the alleged work of an avowed white supremacist, asked the committee: "What in the world is wrong with this country?"

Zeneta Everhart, mother of Zaire Goodman, who was injured in the shooting at a Buffalo supermarket, added, "Lawmakers who continuously allow these mass shootings to continue by not passing stricter gun laws should be voted out."

Meanwhile, the full House was debating a bill to raise the minimum age to 21 from 18 on purchases of certain firearms and toughen prohibitions on untraceable guns.

Rather than pushing for a quick vote on the broader House bills, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has opted to give more time for bipartisan negotiations in his chamber.

Democrats have signaled to Republicans that they would be willing to accept a narrow first step with legislation, even as President Joe Biden calls for tougher action, such as banning assault weapons.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Mark Porter)

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