Standing on stage at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas, on Sunday night (April 2), country star Kelsea Ballerini opened the 2023 CMT Music Awards by honoring the lives lost in the Covenant School shooting in Nashville.
“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 the Covenant School and didn’t walk out,” a visibly upset Ballerini stated directly to camera. “The community of sorrow over this and the 130 mass shootings in the U.S. this year alone stretches from coast to coast.”
The country star spoke from personal experience at the event, recounting a shooting at her high school that she witnessed. “On Aug. 21, 2008, I watched Ryan McDonald, my 15-year-old classmate at Central High School, lose his life to a gun in our cafeteria,” she said. “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.”
Taking a deep breath, Ballerini used the final portion of her speech to deliver a call to action for those watching at home. “I pray deeply that the closeness and the community we feel through the next few hours of music can soon turn into action, like real action that moves us forward together to make change for the safety of our kids and our loved ones,” she said.
Ballerini served as one of the two co-hosts for the CMT Music Awards on Sunday, along with fellow nominee Kane Brown. Lainey Wilson led nominees at the ceremony with four nominations, followed closely by Brown, Jelly Roll and Cody Johnson with three each. Stars such as Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Carly Pearce and Keith Urban are set to perform.