LOS ANGELES (AP) — An emotional Alek Skarlatos returned to “Dancing with the Stars” to honor his Oregon college town hit by a mass killing, calling the event harder to comprehend than the attack on a train he helped stop in France.
Skarlatos, whose August heroics on a French train led to an invitation from ABC’s dance contest, was rehearsing in Los Angeles instead of attending Umpqua Community College when a gunman killed nine people last Thursday.
He had quickly headed to Roseburg, Oregon, after learning of the tragedy.
“It’s honestly the strangest emotion I ever felt,” Skarlatos said in a pre-taped segment that aired on the show Monday. “Even the train made more sense than this does. … There’s nothing you can do.”
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He said his heart was with the people of Roseburg and he hoped to “do them proud” on the dance floor. He and partner Lindsay Arnold drew praise from the show’s judges after their performance.
“It must be incredibly hard to perform with such emotional turmoil,” said panelist Bruno Tonioli, adding, “Well done.”
The show, which asked each celebrity contestant to link their dance routine to a memorable year, drew tears from other competitors including Bindi Irwin. She recalled losing her father, Steve, to a 2006 sting-ray attack.
In a segment taped before the Roseburg shooting, Skarlatos had chosen 2015 as his year to remember. He and two friends, U.S. Air Force Airman Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, were traveling together when they thwarted the train attack.
Skarlatos and Arnold will be competing again next week, with Gary Busey and pro partner Anna Trebunskaya voted off Monday.
The show had a guest host, actor Alfonso Ribeiro, who had stepped in to allow host Tom Bergeron to be with his ill father.