The Fox News anchor, 49, talked to PEOPLE about Sorel’s death, and how “awful” the moment was when she and husband Douglas Brunt had to tell Yates the bad news after it initially seemed like his teacher was recovering.
“I’m in the middle of this joyful moment with Yates and [Doug] shows me the [news] and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do? Am I going to ruin this moment? But he’s got to know. We have to tell them because all the boys are Zooming and they’re all on this group text where they text every 2 minutes. There’s no keeping it from him.’ ”
So Kelly, 49, and Brunt “sat [Yates] down and told him” once they learned school had been canceled the following day out of respect for Sorel, “and it was awful. It was just awful.”
“I couldn’t get it out without crying, and then he cried. We held each other,” she adds.
The next day, instead of school, the kids “had a Zoom meeting in memory of Mr. Sorel, and his teacher shared that [her fellow] teachers had done the same thing earlier that day — that they’d all been in tears and laughter sharing memories of [Sorel].”
“And then the boys … these are 9- and 10-year-old fourth-graders, and each one had such a sweet story about the guy, how he made them laugh, how he made them love music, how he made them laugh at themselves,” Kelly adds. “Appreciating the ability to sort of maintain your sense of humor about your own foibles.”
“It was just the sweetest thing and the saddest thing and you just ask, ‘Why? Why him?’ ” she says. “You don’t want it to happen to anybody, but you just … there’s nothing you can do.”
The school had initially updated parents that Sorel, who was 62 years old, was “out of the ICU and doing better,” which made Kelly and her family think they “were in the clear” before the news changed “so suddenly.”
“I said, ‘I have something to tell you about Mr. Sorel.’ And I think maybe [Yates] was wondering if it was more good news because the last update had been good,” Kelly tells PEOPLE. “And then we said, ‘It’s bad news.’ And he just looked confused. And we were confused too.”
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“You have to explain that doesn’t necessarily mean anything when it comes to this disease,” she adds. “We talked about what was going to happen at school and they were going to honor him the next day and that the boys would probably be talking about it, and maybe we could write another note to Mr. Sorel’s now-widow, which we did.”
As for the former Today host’s younger two children — son Thatcher Bray, 6, and daughter Yardley Evans, 9 — “they [came] into the aftermath where they [could] see teary family members, and we just told them the truth too.”
The family leaned on each other and close friend Richie Sambora reached out to support Yates, gifting him a guitar and virtual music lessons after the tragedy, and coaching him to channel his sadness into a song.
“He’s so sweet. He spent so much time with Yates,” Kelly recalls. “Yates came off that phone on cloud nine.”
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