WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nexstar) — Following the bang of the gavel to commence the beginning of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee gave no opening remarks or explanation as to the work the committee would conduct Thursday. Instead, she opened her phone to play the shrill staccato of rapid gunfire that came from a semi-automatic rifle on May 24 in the halls of Robb Elementary School.
“I wanted, however, the very first sound to be in this hearing gunfire — even before we offered instructions, directions, email — gunfire,” the Texas Democrat said. “The reason is because imagine the whole litany of gunfire in America, through weapons of war, there was no notice. There was no information given, there were no signals no instructions about emails or anything else that might have saved our children. It was gunfire.”
In some of the most excruciating accounts to date of the horrors that unfolded when a gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers in a small Texas town, family of a victim in the Uvalde massacre and community members shared gut-wrenching remarks to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning. The committee billed the hearing as focused on “bipartisan solutions for gun violence.”
Witnesses included Faith Mata, whose little sister Tess was one of the 21 people killed during the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary. Dr. Roy Guerrero, Uvalde’s sole pediatrician, is also on the witness list. Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, will speak about the existing gun laws in the Lone Star State, advocating for what he calls “common sense” gun reform.
Monitoring the US House Judiciary Committee this morning, titled “examining #Uvalde: the search for bipartisan solutions to gun violence.” Texas Sen. @RolandForTexas is in DC to advocate for his constituents, after the May 24 mass school shooting killed 19 children & 2 teachers.— Monica Madden (@themonicamadden) December 15, 2022
One day after the 10-year anniversary of the deadliest mass school shooting in history in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, survivor Nicole Melchionno also recounted her traumatic experience as a then-second grader to the Judiciary Committee.
“How do we continue to allow this? I have grown up in a world where the unimaginable happens over and over again. Uncovering trauma over and over again,” she said.
Faith Mata, older sister to Tess Mata — one of the 19 children killed in Uvalde — told lawmakers about how she begged her parents for a sibling most of her life. Once Tess was born, their family “became whole.” She recounted the fear and anxiety her family experienced when they learned of an active shooter situation at Tess’ school on May 24, praying that her sister would be okay.
Eight and a half agonizing hours later, the Mata family found out Tess did not survive.
“Our life has changed forever. It has darkened because our light has left,” Mata said. “The little, little human who once made this family whole is no longer with us. Tess will never get to experience of life we had prayed she would live… and we will never know how scared she was in her last moments in that classroom.”
Mata sat strongly next to Uvalde pediatrician Dr. Roy Guerrero as he revealed the gruesome details of the bodies he treated at the hospital that day.
Through his phone, Guerrero played the sounds that have been excluded from released and leaked video from May 24 at Robb Elementary — sharing the chilling screams of surviving children as they ran to safety in a panic.
“I’m a gun owner, I believe in the Second Amendment. But I’m also a doctor and I deal with facts over emotion,” he said. “What’s it going to take to change your minds?”
Asked by Jackson Lee to describe the state of the children he treated when they arrived to the hospital, Guerrero used the word “mutilated.”
“A child that I wouldn’t have recognized unless I saw pictures from before, from the award ceremony, because this child was headless. Ripped apart. The other child had a chest wound so large, you could probably put your hand through it,” he said. “These were devastating injuries that no one could have survived.”
Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, reminded national lawmakers that the police response to Robb Elementary was “the worst” in America’s history.
Nearly 400 law enforcement officers were on scene that day, and took more than 77 minutes to breach the classroom and take down the gunman. This was despite 911 calls from students inside — indicating that it was an active shooter situation, not a barricaded subject. The latter would prove to be paramount in the failed miscommunication amongst officers about the situation, leading to fatal situations as victims bled out during the critical window for possible medical intervention.
“It was a system failure. It was communication failure. It was cowardice,” Gutierrez said.
In his most excruciating testimony to date, the state senator described video and audio he has heard detailing the uncoordinated response from officers that day.
“A child was dragged out of the hallway, her face was gone. Hallways and classrooms and blood like no horror movie you’ve ever seen,” he said. “Off-camera, you could hear grown men throwing up from the sight of the horror or perhaps the failure that they had caused.”
Debate on solutions to gun violence
Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee began her remarks by citing a common policy concern of Democrats, which their party hasn’t been able to get across the finish line even with control of Congress and the White House, calling for a ban on AR-15-style weapons.
She said without a ban on such weapons, “more people will die.”
“If we’re not going to ban them, then law enforcement must be trained to confront these weapons of war. Yes, we must train law enforcement like warriors in a battle on the combat field,” Jackson Lee said.
GOP Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs denounced this philosophy, redirecting focus on mental health and common underlying issues noted in studies of the criminals who commit mass shootings.
“There hasn’t been an honest engagement and search for bipartisan solutions to gun violence, mostly because there’s only one solution for the my friends across the aisle and that is to emasculate the Second Amendment and remove guns from from legal, lawful, and law abiding citizens,” Biggs said.
The Congressman referenced a study by psychologist Dr. Peter Langman, which examined 56 school shooters, and found 82% of the study’s sample subjects grew up in either dysfunction families or without their parents together for a significant portion of their childhood.
“How long can we continue to ignore these findings if we’re really going to search for bipartisan solutions to put a stop to these tragic, tragic events,” he said.
With Republicans set to take back control of the U.S. House in January, Democrats and advocates’ wish lists on gun restrictions are highly unlikely. However, Gutierrez is hopeful he can move the needle in Texas — despite its legislature historically moving to expand gun rights after state mass shootings, rather than restrict them.
“Florida took 23 days after the Parkland shooting to have extreme risk protective orders to raise the minimum age limit to 21. This was in a Republican-controlled body,” he said. “We can do all of those things and more, that are just good common safety gun solutions.”
Gutierrez has already filed three Uvalde-related bills for the upcoming 88th Legislative Session, which begins on Jan. 10.
You can live stream or watch the archived full meeting at this link, here.