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Melissa Joan Hart recounted her experience attempting to help students fleeing a school shooter in Nashville, one of the most difficult things the actress says she’s ever seen.
For the latest episode of her What Women Binge podcast, Hart and co-host Amanda Lee shared details about their experiences Monday when police and emergency responders took over the area surrounding The Covenant School, a private Presbyterian parochial school, where a shooter killed three children and three adults.
Hart and Lee noted that they were respectively on their way to their children’s schools, which were close by, for conferences or already there when they began to encounter or see on the news the local authorities’ response to the active shooter situation. That’s when Hart said she saw a visual that will stay with her.
“I was driving to our conference — my husband and I — and saw a helicopter. We’re like that’s really weird. Then we tried to get across the street and one cop car was just there directing traffic to turn. We turned and the car in front of us stopped and all of a sudden I saw a teacher — and this is the part I’ll never forget — coming out with no abandon, walking into the street, stopping traffic and all of a sudden all these tiny children going by,” the actress and producer said. “The look on her face just changed my life.”
The Melissa & Joey star continued, adding that in the moment, she was confused about what she was seeing, especially as the teacher was moving what appeared to be kindergarteners across a five-lane highway. It was while trying to get a handle on what was happening that she finally realized where the students were coming from: the woods.
“Something’s wrong and I’m thinking back to the helicopter and the cop, so I get out of the car,” she recounted, noting that her husband, Mark Wilkerson, stayed in the vehicle to avoid anyone having to interact with an unknown man as he realized “quicker than I did” what was going on. Hart said that she began helping the children across the road, including one who asked her, “What’s going on?” At this point, she shared, there were no police except for the one directing traffic.
“I was like, ‘We’re just going across the road,’ and I was hoping that she doesn’t hear — she doesn’t know me, so maybe she doesn’t know the fear in my voice,” the actress continued. “But it’s really quickly dawning on me this is not a fire drill. They are running across the road. Something is going on really bad. Something is worse behind them than them crossing the street and putting children on the side of basically a highway.”
Hart pointed out that she initially felt the response of the teachers “was kind of rude” after they refused to engage with or talk to her. But their attention — and own emotional responses — are now “so clear” to her after the fact. “I didn’t put together that they are probably: (a) holding it together and (b) running for their lives and trying to save every one of these 20-something babies that are running across the street.”
Traffic remained at a stop, Hart said, with only a few people getting out of their cars to help. Otherwise, the area was frozen. That’s when the emergency response ramped up. “All of a sudden, all these cops come in. By the time I’d sat there about a half an hour, 200 police cars had come. It was — I mean, the sirens, just insane,” she said. “It was the saddest thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
The kids would eventually be transported farther from the scene, but Hart stayed to help a woman who said that her child was inside the school. After they both prayed alongside a third woman, Wilkerson learned from the police that they could take the distraught parent to the fire station, where she would be reunited with her children. He continued to direct people running up the street where to go in an attempt to help, but in all, the actress says she and Wilkerson shared feelings of helplessness.
Lee, who said she was 10 minutes away at another school, dropped everything to get to Hart, but struggled to get close, so she waited in her school’s parking lot. “You could hear the helicopters hovering right over my head and there’s unmarked police vehicles flying through our parking lot to avoid the intersections and the sirens,” Lee recalled. “I mean, there’s so many going off at one time.”
It wasn’t until about 30 minutes after the initial encounter with the schoolchildren that Hart says it became really clear what had happened. “When those ambulances went by it was like, ‘Yeah, there was probably children in those ambulances,'” the actress said, tearing up. “It was just the worst thing I’ve ever seen and I’m not even a first responder. I didn’t even have to see what they have to see, what those teachers saw, what those children saw. So it was just a really hard day and it’s gonna get worse for some around the grieving process.”
Lee noted that the community is “devastated,” and people are experiencing a pile of emotions, including sadness, anger and relief over what Hart said was a “horrendous” event. It was a particularly bizarre occurrence for Hart, who said she was also in a town near Newtown, Connecticut, when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened in 2012. Hart suggested it was difficult to process, as her son was in first grade at the time. “It was too close to home for me and that changed my life,” she said.
The Sabrina the Teenage Witch star also noted that she had sent pizza to the fire station she and Wilkerson had been at on Monday, as she and Lee advocated for podcast listeners to show their support to first responders, families and organizations in the aftermath of the shooting.
“If you want to get involved, Everytown is a great organization or Sandy Hook Promise works a lot with mental health in schools,” Hart said. “There’s a lot of different ways that you can get involved, depending on how comfortable you are.”
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