Kelsea Ballerini Tearfully Recalls Trauma From Living Through 2008 School Shooting

Kelsea Ballerini opened up for the first time on Monday about the trauma of watching one of her classmates take his last breath during a school shooting in 2008.

The 28-year-old country music star recalled the painful memory in an interview on CBS Mornings, promoting her new poetry collection Feel Your Way Through: A Book of Poetry. Ballerini dives into some personal and emotional times of her life in the book, including one moment she couldn’t “avoid” writing about.

She was a sophomore at Central High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, when she witnessed her 15-year-old classmate Ryan McDonald get shot in the chest by another 15-year-old student, Jamar Siler on August 21, 2008.

It is unclear what triggered the attack, but some reports claim Jamar and Ryan, who lived with his grandmother and had been bullied for having alopecia, argued on the bus in the morning. The teen shooter’s defense team blamed his actions on the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. (It must not have worked too well, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2011.)

The day undoubtedly had a lasting impact on the entire community, including Ballerini. And it’s also a moment she hasn’t ever spoken out about publicly — until now. The Miss Me More songstress said as tears streamed down her face:

“I will cry. I was worried about that. … With this particular situation, you know, I’ve never talked about it before, but as the book was forming I was realizing that if I’m gonna talk about the things that have made me me, I certainly can’t avoid this. I’ve never talked about it before.”

Ballerini wrote about the tragedy in a poem called “His Name Was Ryan,” sharing with the outlet how watching him die on the cafeteria floor all those years ago has stuck with her forever. In the poem, the singer heartbreakingly details what happened:

“His name was Ryan, and he died on the cafeteria floor from a gunshot wound to the chest. I can’t be too sure, but I think I saw him breathe his last breath.”

She also expresses how the traumatic moment has made her afraid of loud noises and guns ever since:

“I’m scared of loud noises, I’m triggered by the news, I’m terrified of guns, I’m sensitive in crowds. But I’m alive. And because of a boy named Ryan, I know what a gift that is.”

Powerful stuff. Speaking with CBS Mornings, she said how that day ultimately made her “very aware of life is short.”

Elsewhere in the interview, she also addressed her controversial tweet following the backlash when country artist Morgan Wallen was caught using a racial slur on camera. She wrote at the time:

“The news out of Nashville tonight does not represent country music.”

However, people called her out on the fact her post insinuates that racism isn’t an issue within the country music community. Ballerini acknowledged the “misstep” to the outlet, saying:

“I have learned that sometimes, even in the purest intentions, you should keep your mouth shut and learn. And that’s what I’m doing now. I have had a very small corner of cancel culture around that. I’m such a peacemaker by default. I’m a chronic people pleaser. I’m an only child from a divorced family, I’m just like, everyone good? What can I do?”

She continued:

“So standing up for anything is me crawling out of my skin. But it’s something that’s important to me. It’s something I’m trying to learn about, that I’m in a lot of therapy about, and something that I’m trying to do better and better and more eloquently as I get older.”

We cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for Kelsea to speak on the subject of the probably the worst day of her life. You can take a look at the entire conversation with Ballerini (below):

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