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Kelsea Ballerini Shares Emotional Tribute to Nashville School Shooting Victims at 2023 CMT Music Awards

Paying tribute. Kelsea Ballerini honored victims of the Nashville, Tennessee, Covenant School shooting at the start of the 2023 CMT Awards on Sunday, April 2.

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“On March 27, 2023, three 9-year-olds — Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs — along with Dr. Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill walked into Covenant School and didn’t walk out,” the “Blindsided” songstress, 29, said as the broadcast began.

“The community of sorrow over this and the 130 mass shootings in the U.S. this year alone stretches from coast to coast,” Ballerini, who cohosted the CMT Music Awards with Kane Brown, added. “I wanted to personally stand up here and share this moment, because on August 21 2008, I watched Ryan McDonald, my 15-year-old classmate at Central High School, lose his life to a gun in our cafeteria. Tonight’s broadcast is dedicated to the ever-growing list of families, friends, survivors, witnesses and responders whose lives continue to forever be changed by gun violence. I pray, deeply, that the closeness and the community we feel for the next few hours through of music can soon turn into action — like real action — that moves us forward together to create change for the safety of our kids and our loved ones.”

CMT Music Awards 2023 - Kelsea Ballerini Tribute- 623
Kelsea Ballerini. CBS

The shooting took place on Monday, March 27, when Audrey Hale opened fire at the private school. The 28-year-old killed three children and three staff members before being fatally shot by Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers.

Shortly after the incident, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban. “We have to do more to stop gun violence,” the former Delaware senator, 80, said during a women’s business summit held at the White House. “It’s ripping our communities apart. It’s ripping at the very soul of the nation. We have to do more to protect our schools so they aren’t turned into prisons.”

Dr. Jill Biden, for her part, addressed the shooting while speaking with conference of city leaders in Washington D.C. later that day. “I am truly without words. Our children deserve better,” the first lady, 71, said. “We stand — all of us — we stand with Nashville in prayer.”

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Celebrities have also used their voices to condemn the violence in the wake of the tragic event. Jana Kramer — who lives in Nashville — confirmed that her two children were safe after the shooting.

“Jolie and Jace are okay,” the One Tree Hill alum 39 — who shares 7-year-old daughter Jolie and 4-year-old son Jace with ex-husband Mike Caussin — wrote via Instagram on Monday.

She continued: “My heart is absolutely breaking for the children and families right now. Why. Why. Why. I just will never understand. Please pray.”

Melissa Joan Hart, meanwhile, revealed that she and husband Mark Wilkerson helped a group of young students evacuate to safety amid the shooting.

“We helped a class of kindergarteners across a busy highway that were climbing out of the woods and were trying to escape the shooter situation at their school,” the Sabrina the Teenage Witch alum, 46, said in a Tuesday, March 28, Instagram video. “We helped all these tiny little kids cross the road and get their teachers over there, and we helped a mom reunite with her children.”

The Drive Me Crazy actress added that her and Wilkerson’s kids attend the “school right next to” Covenant School. “I don’t know what to say anymore. Enough is enough,” she said. Hart and Wilkerson, 46, share sons Mason, 17, Braydon, 15, and Tucker, 10.

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The New York native noted that it was her family’s “second experience” being in “close proximity” to a school shooting. “We moved here from Connecticut, where we were in a school a little ways down from Sandy Hook,” she explained.

The tragedy was also too close to home for Jessie James Decker, who shared in a Monday Instagram Story that the school is “only two miles up the road” from her home. “It’s in our town. It’s in our community. It is just awful. I’m just heartbroken for these families,” the country singer, 34, said.

Shawn Johnson, for her part, opened up about her kids’ school — which she described as “right in the vicinity” of Covenant — getting put on lockdown the day of the shooting.

“Our babies are now home with us. I feel lucky and blessed but still so incredibly sad. No parent or family should ever have to deal with this,” the Olympic gymnast, 31, wrote via her Instagram Story on Monday. “Today has changed me.” Johnson shares daughter Drew, 3, and son Jeff, 20 months, with husband Andrew East.

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