Nashville reporter 'immediately was taken back' to school shooting she witnessed in 2010

·4 min read

Nashville TV reporter Joylyn Bukovac revealed on the air Monday − while covering the mass shooting at Covenant School − that she herself was a student who witnessed a school shooting 13 years ago.

"This is something that hits very close to home for me," Bukavac, 27, said during a live shot for WSMV-Channel 4.

"Many of you might not know this, but I am actually a school shooting survivor," she said. "It happened a while ago – I was in middle school."

In 2010, Bukovac, a 13-year-old middle school student in Madison, Alabama, was in a crowded hallway when one student fatally shot another in the back of the head, she told The Nashville Tennessean, a member of the USA TODAY Network. She and dozens of her terrified classmates hid for what she said felt like hours before police released them from the room.

WSMV-Channel 4 reporter Joylyn Bukovac headshot
WSMV-Channel 4 reporter Joylyn Bukovac headshot

'I had witnessed someone's death'

Bukovac said in 2010, she and her friends were joking around with each other between classes at Discovery Middle School right before the shooting.

"And I then heard a loud pop. At first, I remember thinking, that must just be a balloon," she said.

"Then people started yelling: 'He’s been shot! He’s been shot!' And there was one of my peers laying on the ground. It happened catty-corner across the hall from me. I was right there.

"A wave of shock moved through me. I just wanted to get away."

Bukovac said she and other students were herded into the choir room under the bleachers so the room would appear empty to a shooter. A teacher took the students' cell phones, which frustrated Bukovac.

U.S. Army First Sgt. Robert Fearn escorts his daughter, Janelle Lawrence from Discovery Middle School in Madison, Ala., in 2010 after one student fatally shot another inside. Lawrence was standing next to the shooter when he pulled the trigger, and she said it sounded "like someone stepping on a balloon"
U.S. Army First Sgt. Robert Fearn escorts his daughter, Janelle Lawrence from Discovery Middle School in Madison, Ala., in 2010 after one student fatally shot another inside. Lawrence was standing next to the shooter when he pulled the trigger, and she said it sounded "like someone stepping on a balloon"

"I really wanted to reach out to my family while i was hiding to tell them I love them and that it was going to be ok. Just so if that was the last memory that they would have with me, I wanted them to have their last interaction with me to be something they could hold onto."

She said it felt like time was crawling, but a police officer eventually led them out of the building after the shooter, then 14-year-old Hammod Memon, was detained.

"I felt such a sense of relief as I was walking out of school. But also immense amount of heartache because I had witnessed someone's death that day."

U.S. Navy Chaplain Raynard Allen delivers the eulogy in 2010 for 14-year-old Todd Brown, Allen's cousin, after Brown was shot to death by another student at Discovery Middle School in Madison, Ala.
U.S. Navy Chaplain Raynard Allen delivers the eulogy in 2010 for 14-year-old Todd Brown, Allen's cousin, after Brown was shot to death by another student at Discovery Middle School in Madison, Ala.

Bukovac said she threw herself into academics, competitive dance and running as healthy outlets to help her process her grief.

The emotions came rushing back to her when Channel 4 sent her Monday to Covenant School.

"I remember thinking as soon as I got to Hillsboro Pike and seeing parents holding their babies and grabbing their kids and running, I immediately was taken back to that day in 2010."

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'It's not about me'

Since saying on air Monday she survived that shooting, Bukovac has been featured in media stories around the country, including The Washington Post and NBC's "Today" show. Her tweet acknowledging the support she received afterward has been viewed more than one million times.

Thousands of people commented on the tweet, including at least a half dozen people who said they had witnessed shootings at their school or workplace.

Bukovac said she struggled with whether to tell viewers about her 2010 experience "because it's not about me, really," she said.

In hindsight, though, Bukovac said, she's glad she did.

"It’s a wake up call for people, from what I’ve been seeing," she said.

"People are like, 'Whoa, there's a reporter out there reporting on a school shooting who, 13 years ago, she was a kid and she was hiding from a gunman.' It’s definitely a big wake up call for gun violence being so widespread."

Reach Brad Schmitt at brad@tennessean.com or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: School shooting survivor now Nashville TV reporter relives trauma