Entertainment Oxford High School Shooting Survivor Moves Judges in Emotional AGT Audition: 'Love Is Stronger Than Hate'
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Thejudges were wowed this week by an 18-year-old singer who survived a .
During Tuesday's episode, Oxford High School senior Ava Swiss took the stage to perform the song "Remember" by Lauren Daigle. Prior to singing, Swiss revealed that she was a survivor of the mass shooting that unfolded in November 2021.
"Back on November 30, my brother and I were a part of the Oxford school shooting," Swiss explained. "We've lost four of our students and seven others were injured, one of which was a teacher."
When judgeasked how she's been doing since the tragedy, Swiss told him, "It's been hard. I remember my brother and I, we were talking to each other and we said, 'There's no way we're ever stepping foot back in the school.' But we've actually been in person in the school for about two months now, so things are getting better."
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After delivering a powerful performance, Swiss received a standing ovation from the judges, as well as four unanimous yeses to continue on to the next round.
"In life, it's tough to show up, especially after going through incredible trauma," said. "The fact that you can break through that, and shine you way you did today, is so inspirational for every human being."
called Swiss "incredible" while fellow judge noted how Swiss "took my breath away" and "gave me goosebumps."
"I think you are gutsy," added Cowell. "For me, this is one of those auditions I'll never forget. I really have so much respect for you, and on top of that, you've got a great voice. You're really somebody who I'm so happy to have met."
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Following her emotional audition, Swiss tells PEOPLE that the moment still feels "surreal."
"I remember being on the stage and thinking, 'Wow, you're really here. It's really happening.' I mean, all my life, all my childhood I watched the show and I always kind of dreamed that I would be able to be on that stage one day," she says. "So when I was there, and then on top of it, getting all of the positive feedback, I felt very, very proud of myself... It was an overwhelming amount of happiness."
Speaking to why she wanted to audition, Swiss says she was inspired by her hometown's strength and unity, and wanted to represent them in a positive light.
"After some time of coping and thinking and everything, I felt like I should use it as an opportunity to try to show more people than I ever imagined who Oxford really is," she explains. "We're not just a town with a tragedy. I wanted to show them what our community is really like, and most importantly, how a community can come together and how they have proved that things do get better with hope, love and support."
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Of the four victims who lost their lives that day, Swiss says she was friendly with one: 17-year-old Justin Shilling. Though they had distanced in the last two years of his life, in part due to remote learning amid the COVID pandemic, Swiss believes her late friend would've been proud of her AGT audition.
"Freshman year, we had a huge crush on each other all year," she recalls. "He was just one of those people where even if we kind of faded over time, he would always come back around and he'd be the type to come back and say, 'Hey, congratulations. I'm so proud of you. This is amazing.' He'd be the one to reach out no matter how much time has gone by."
As she moves forward on the show, Swiss hopes that she can send an important message to viewers at home.
"Love is stronger than hate," she says. "Lots of people still can't fully heal, especially the four families. It's obviously a lot harder for them. But with time, things do get better with hope and with support and with love from other people."
Race relations foundation urges more help for victims as hate crimes rise further
OTTAWA — The head of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is calling for action to combat hate and more federal help for victims, as new statistics show that hate crimes in Canada rose by 27 per cent last year. Executive director Mohammed Hashim warned that unless action is taken to combat hate-motivated abuse, including online, it will continue to spread. He said the "slew of hate" online is so prevalent it risks becoming normalized and those affected are changing their behaviour to deal with it, including by not reading social media comments. "It is a firehose of hate that is growing honestly like a wildfire," he said.
"The weeks after everything had happened, the amount of donations that [we received], even big companies like Chick-fil-A and Olive Garden were donating pounds and pounds of food to us," she adds. "It was the simplest things like that that really showed us ... I mean, that's what got us through, I think, is the love and support."
While she prepares for the next round of the competition, Swiss says she's most excited to keep singing and connect with others.
"I'm just hoping that I can reach even more people and share my message and share my story and my voice," she says. "One of my favorite parts of this whole experience, even when I went to LA back in April, I loved all the new people I got to meet. Because again, even after everything on November 30th, I met some really amazing people and I had some really amazing people reach out to me and it just shows how much kindness there is in the world."
"So I'd love being able to meet some more people that are like me, and even people that share passion for singing, it's very cool," she adds. "I've performed a lot, but not ever this big. It's very surreal."
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America's Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
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