Wracked with grief over the massacre at the music festival he had played at days earlier, country music singer Eric Church found it in him to pick up his guitar and perform for a slain fan — leaving a pair of seats empty in his honor.
The country crooner fought off tears at Nashville's famed Grand Ole Opry on Wednesday night, telling the crowd about his experience playing at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
He recalled jumping into a row between sections Friday to shake hands with the fans at the festival, the last stop on his tour.
"I was so moved by them, mainly because I looked at them and thought, 'This is my crowd, I've seen them all year, they're mine,'" Church said, his voice breaking.
There was no hint that some in attendance would be among the 59 killed and more than 500 injured Sunday night, when gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd from a perch the 32nd floor of a hotel.
"Forty eight hours later the places that I stood was carnage," Church said. "Those are my people. Those are my fans. "And the loss of one of those victims, in particular, has continued to devastate the singer.
"I didn't want to be here tonight. I didn't want to play guitar," Church told the Nashville crowd. "I didn't want to walk on the stage."
What moved him to do just that was a video that someone sent him of Heather Melton, wearing a Church tour t-shirt, while being interviewed about the loss of her husband, Sonny, who died saving her life.
She said that the two attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival to see Church, and also had tickets to this very Grand Ole Opry show.
So maybe the Meltons couldn't make it, but Church was determined to play his heart out for them as if they were sitting in Section 3, Row F, where the country star had left their seats empty.
As audible sobs peppered the Grand Ole Opry audience, Church then sang a song he had written in Sony Melton's honor.
"The reason I'm here tonight is because of Heather Melton, her husband Sonny who died, and every person who was there," said Melton.
"I saw that crowd. I saw them with their hands in the air. I saw them with boots in the air. And what I saw that moment in time was frozen, there's no amount of bullets that can take that away."