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School shooting survivor who wowed on 'AGT' shares her story

Ava “Swiss” Swieczkowski got a standing ovation on the show.

After performing on "America's Got Talent" and receiving a standing ovation, a teen who survived a school shooting is sharing her emotional story.

On November 30, 2021, Ava "Swiss" Swieczkowski, 18, was walking from the cafeteria towards some classrooms at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Michigan, just outside of Detroit.

"The first thing I heard was a kid saying, 'There's a shooter! There's a shooter!" Swieczkowski told TODAY Parents. "I remember asking the girl next to me, 'Is this real?'"

Swieczkowski says she can't recall if she heard gunshots or not.

"Subconsciously, you kind of block things out," she added. "But then I saw a stampede of people and was like, 'OK, we should probably run.'"

That day, a 15-year-old shot and killed four people and injured seven more, including one teacher.

America's Got Talent - Season 17
Ava Swiss performs on "America's Got Talent."Trae Patton / NBC

'My brother is still in there. I can't leave him'

As the suspect carried out the shooting, Swieczkowski remembers just instinctually running towards the nearest exit. Once outside of the school, she suddenly stopped.

"I thought, 'My brother is still in there. I can't leave him,'" she recalled. "I actually tried going back in, but I remember just standing there for so long — I couldn't keep going. There were all these people around me, flooding the doors and running, saying, 'What are you doing? You have to run. Don't go back in.' But I felt guilty for running. I didn't want to leave my brother in there."

Swieczkowski called her mom, who implored her to run as far away from the school as possible. The 18-year-old then reunited with her father, who has an office just down the street from the school and beat first responders to the scene.

Related: Michigan school shooting: What to know about the victims

After making sure she was OK and asking if she knew where her brother, Reed, was, her father put Swieczkowski in his car.

"Multiple times I tried to get out and go back and get (Reed)," she added "It was to the point that my dad almost had to lock me in there —  he didn't want me running back."

After debating if it was safe enough to text her brother — she didn't want his phone to make a sound if he was hiding — she sent him a message, asking if he was OK, where he was and telling him she loved him.

"He finally responded to me and said, 'I'm OK, Ava. Just get in your car and leave. Where are you? Just get in your car and leave,'" Swieczkowski said. "We both just cared that the other was safe and it was such a helpless feeling — we couldn't be with each other or help each other in that moment."

Reed, 15, was trapped inside his classroom. The shooter was carrying out the attack in the hallway just outside the classroom's door.

"He was right there," Swieczkowski explained. "He's better now, but he definitely had a more traumatic experience than I did."

'The day I found my purpose in life'

Swieczkowski says she has always turned to music in times of turmoil and heartbreak, and has certainly used it to help her and others move forward after the shooting.

"Once I performed at a vigil three weeks after the shooting, that's when I realized that I could not only use music to help heal myself but to help heal other people," she explained. "That was the day I found my purpose in life."

As she stepped on the "America's Got Talent" stage — her dream of performing in front of thousands if not millions of people realized —  Swieczkowski says she felt both nervous and excited, and thought of what that moment would mean for not just her as an artist, but for an entire community still healing.

"I was just so happy and so proud that I was finally able to do something that I've been wanting to do all my life, and for such a good reason," Swieczkowski explained. "For showing everyone who my town is and how strong we are and that we're more than just a town with a tragedy, too."

Related: Michigan school shooting video shows students’ dramatic escape

Once she finished her performance, Swieczkowski said that moment felt "surreal," especially after receiving a standing ovation and kind comments from the judges.

"After I finished I felt proud to be able to represent such an amazing town that I have back at home," she added. "AGT has been so amazing —  even just the simplest thing, like Simon asking if I need water with just the calmest, most sweetest and kindest tone in his voice. It's a great show and I wouldn't have picked anywhere else to share my story."

Swieczkowski said she didn't feel alone on the "America's Got Talent" stage — with her town behind her and supportive judges in front of her. She doesn't believe she was alone on the day of the shooting, either.

"I usually go down a different hallway with my friends — where the shooting happened," she explained. "But I turned the other way that day. I don't know why I did. People can say it's God. I think it's God."

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