AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Former sports superstar Bo Jackson helped pay for the funerals of the 19 children and two teachers killed in the Uvalde school massacre in May, emerging as one of the donors before which covered the families’ costs after one of the deadliest classroom shootings in US history.
Jackson, whose rare success in the NFL and Major League Baseball made him one of the greatest and most marketable athletes of the 1980s and 1990s, told The Associated Press on Wednesday he felt obliged to support the families of the victims after the loss of so many children.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older,” said Jackson, a father of three and a grandfather in his late 60s. “It’s just not right for parents to bury their children. It’s not right.
“I know every family out there is probably working hard just to do what they do. … The last thing they needed was to shell out thousands of dollars for something that should never have happened.
Jackson said he felt a personal connection to the city he passed through many times. Uvalde has been a regular stop for a bite to eat or groceries before a long drive further west to visit a friend’s ranch on hunting trips.
It was his familiarity with the ambience of Uvalde’s main street, the leafy town square and the people he had met during those stops that touched his heart when news broke on May 24 of the shooting at Robb Elementary. Law enforcement was heavily criticized for taking more than an hour to enter the classroom where the 18-year-old shooter carried out the attack, and a Texas House investigative report blamed the district school, claiming a lax security culture, patchy alert system and unlocked doors also contributed.
Three days later, Jackson and a close friend flew to Uvalde, met briefly with Governor Greg Abbott, and presented a check for $170,000 with an offer to pay all funeral expenses.
Abbott announced it as an anonymous donation at a May 27 press conference about state aid for victims.
“We didn’t want media,” he said. “Nobody knew we were there.”
And though Jackson suggested he hadn’t kept it a secret, he hadn’t spoken publicly about what prompted him to make the trip to Uvalde and the donation until this week.
“Uvalde is a town that stays in your mind. Just the name,” Jackson said. ” I do not know anyone there. It just touched me.
Jackson declined to name the accompanying friend who also contributed to the donation.
Other fundraising efforts have since raised millions to help families, and local funeral homes have said they will not charge families for services. But Jackson’s donation was a first point of light for grieving families.
Abbott’s office said Jackson’s money was “promptly directed to cover funeral expenses” through OneStar, a nonprofit created to promote volunteerism and community service in Texas, including the efforts of relief at Uvalde.
“The true spirit of our nation is that Americans support each other in times of need and hardship,” Abbott said. “In a truly selfless act, Bo covered all of the funeral costs for the families of the victims so they had one less thing to worry about as they mourned.”
Jackson said he followed media coverage of the funeral, but declined to say if he had direct contact with any of the families.
On the day of filming, Jackson tweeted, “America…please stop all this nonsense. Please pray for all victims. If you hear something, say something. We are not supposed to bury our children. I pray for all the families across the country who have lost loved ones in the senseless shootings. This cannot go on.
When asked to elaborate on the “This can’t go on”, however, Jackson declined, saying only that he wrote what he meant.
“I don’t want to turn this into anything (but) what it is. I was just trying (with the gift) to put some sunshine in somebody’s cloud, a very dark cloud,” Jackson said.
But he also noted the regularity of mass shootings in the country.
“The last thing you want to hear is that there’s an active shooter at your child’s school,” he said. “It’s happening everywhere now.”
Uvalde was not Jackson’s first act of large-scale philanthropy. He hosts an annual bike ride in his home state of Alabama to raise money for disaster relief funds, an effort launched after tornadoes killed nearly 250 people. Uvalde’s donation was his first in response to a mass shooting.
“It’s the children. … It’s the children. … It’s the kids,” Jackson said, pausing before each rehearsal to collect himself. “If you don’t mind, something is wrong with you.”
For more AP coverage of the Uvalde shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting