Hero, my grandpa used to tell me, is a word reserved for those no longer around to hear the praise. The idea being that there is someone who dives into a battle and gets a battalion through an ambush, and then there is a soldier who sees the grenade, and chooses in an instant to give up their life to save their colleague. That is a heavy split second decision.
The U.S. Government by award of medals declared my grandfather a hero.
For the rest of his life all he saw as he went to sleep was the sight of his best friend, floating to a watery grave.
He never saw himself as a hero. He was. The two remarkable Americans I will introduce you to below may never seem themselves as heroes, because of the haunting imagery that will invade their dreams for the rest of their days, like my grandfather.
But they are.
On this first anniversary of unspeakable horror, I am here to talk about heroes who did not die that day, yet took actions they were consciously aware, would risk their lives. I don’t know how two little girls knew to do what they did. I don’t how they kept her composure better than a bunch of cosplaying wannabe tough guys who even armed, were more useless than an expired Pepsi contest bottle cap at a 7-11. But I know that on May 24th, 2022 two children led them.
And you should know about it, too.
We will start with Khloie Torres, who made a call that no dispatcher could ever hear and sleep the same again.
“Please hurry, there’s a lot of dead bodies,” Torres said in the 911 call. “Please, I’m going to die.”
Imagine hearing a little girl tell you this. Think about all of the rail the train of this country has ridden, and how long it has been derailing, and all of the worthless posturing, and pandering that led to this moment.
Think of the helplessness. Think of the guilt.
The two 11-year-old students—who called 911 during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas—were honored with the Kid Hero Award at the 2023 Texas Public Safety Conference in Galveston, Texas. The event is set up by the Texas chapters of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
The award comes nearly a year after 19 children and two teachers were shot to death by an 18-year-old former Robb Elementary student, who attacked the school on May 24, 2022. Cerrillo and Torres placed calls to police from inside classroom 112, where the gunman killed their friends and teachers.
Khloie had very little hope of surviving. She had been scarred forever by seeing her mutilated classmates, yet had the werewithal to stay calm as possible and call for help.
As did Miah Cerrillo who in a moment of unparalleled poise, did what most of us would believe is unthinkable.
Miah said after shooting students in her class, the gunman went through a door into an adjoining classroom. She heard screams, and the sound of shots in that classroom. After the shots stopped, though, she says the shooter started playing loud music – sad music, she said. The girl and a friend managed to get her dead teacher’s phone and call 911 for help. She said she told a dispatcher, “Please come … we’re in trouble.”
Miah said she was scared the gunman would return to her classroom to kill her and a few other surviving friends. So, she dipped her hands in the blood of a classmate – who lay next to her, already dead – and then smeared the blood all over herself to play dead.
Allow me to speak not as “The Claw,” but as Todd. When our political system has been rendered so impotent, that the phrase, “So, she dipped her hands in the blood of a classmate – who lay next to her, already dead – and then smeared the blood all over herself to play dead,” is not confined to poorly conceived movie scripts, that train? You know, the one I mentioned earlier? That national train is launched into the sky not having just derailed, but apparently, to drive home the point, catapulted with the benefit of a Republican constructed ramp.
You see “The Claw” writes as meaningfully as possible. “The Claw” see things, reads things, absorbs images that I never publish, but keep in my heart.
And Todd, has to deal with that. But that is ok. Todd will. Because as much as this hurts me, as much as this torments me, this is not about me. This is about the victims.
You see I made my peace with my place in this world, which is to push through and fight for justice and peace. And in the process, I see things most others don’t. But that willingness allows me to see shining lights, as well.
Shining lights like Khloie. And Miah. Oh did you see the picture of little Khloie of Miah?
Stop first. Decide if this is something that you wish to see. Because once it is seen, I can’t unsee it for you.
Below is a giant heart, after that there is no mental delete for what follows.
Did you see it? Are there tears in your eyes? Is there anger in your heart, and rage in your spirit, and an undying willingness to vote these people into the political wilderness once and for all?
And what of those good guys with guns? Let me have Miah explain what she thinks of them:
She said afterward, she overheard talk of police waiting outside the school. As she recounted this part of the story to CNN, she started crying, saying she just didn’t understand why they didn’t come inside and rescue them.
Ah yes, the all talk crowd. I am well familiar with them. Big men with big guns, that make big bold Texasian claims about their toughness. And what happens when things become real? They panic like the cowards so many of them are, like the ones I grew up with, the ones that hold onto their rifle like a security blanket.
Their guns were useless, because in the face of their own cowardice, they were useless. But not two little girls doing their best to use their intelligence, and showing the ultimate in strength, dedication to their classmates, and their will to survive. They did more with a phone and their wits than an entire police department could do with their impotent, and spineless response.
On May 24th, 2022 we reached a new level of gun violence in this country. “The grade schoolers smeared themselves with blood to fool the shooter,” stage. On May 6th, 2023, in the same state, we reached the “I might want to consider shopping while wearing Kevlar,” stage.
The Claw is publishing this article. But Todd is feeling it right now. Todd is looking back at 46 plus years of life and witnessing with rare exception, national backsliding, wondering what he failed to do, and what he still can do, to make sure no news story ever again contains the story, “she smeared herself with blood.” Because the thing is, my grandpa taught me well. He taught me that the debt of this privilege of being an American, necessarily comes with the willingness to sacrifice for it.
I hurt. We hurt. We as a family of dedicated progressive Americans, hurt. But they screwed up, these monsters that live under the thumb of the NRA.
They made me mad. They made us mad.
They made us so filled with rage that a torrent of electoral bittnerness will sweep them out of power in successive blue waves. And do you know how I know this? Look below, to see what stands before us.
It is our future.
There is our future, with backbones of steel. They, like David Hogg before them, will remember and will change this world. Their reason for being here did not culminate on May 24th, 2022.
It merely presented the tip of their iceberg of unlimited potential.
So there they are, with their “Kid Heroes” awards. And you know what? I see two brave young persons who are the best of who we are as a people. And I see this and something special begins to happen.
I begin to hope.
And the pain, if only just for a moment, numbs.
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