UVALDE, Texas — Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, told the director of a community center in Uvalde, Texas, that she held her children Archie and Lilibet “a little bit tighter” when she learned about the elementary school shooting that killed 21 people, including 19 children.
On Thursday, Meghan quietly visited the Herby Ham Activity Center, which hosted an emergency blood drive to help victims of the shooting. Director Sue Rankin told BuzzFeed News that late in the morning on Thursday, a member of the duchess's security team walked into her office and told her that Meghan was in Uvalde.
“She wanted to come by and just see everything that was going on with the blood drive and to help. Her whole thing was she wanted to help,” Rankin said. “She was going to be incognito, he told me that she was going to be wearing a T-shirt and ripped blue jeans and a hat and a mask and no one was going to — he didn’t want anyone to know who she was because she did not want the press attention.”
Rankin said she was told Meghan was on her way to a nearby H-E-B grocery store to pick up food platters for the center’s volunteers and people who were giving blood.
“She went and picked up trays and trays of sandwiches and snacks and everything for the people who were coming in and giving blood. It was for our workers. It was for myself,” Rankin said. “It was for anybody that wanted to, you know, have lunch.”
When Meghan arrived, she said, the duchess's security team did a sweep and then asked the director to meet her outside the center. “I did, and we visited for a few minutes. She did have her mask on. She kept it on the whole time. There were no cameras whatsoever.”
Rankin brought Meghan from the back door into the kitchen, where she was introduced as a volunteer.
“There was no ‘Look! It’s Meghan Markle!’ Nothing. And she introduced herself as Meghan,” Rankin said.
“She said, ‘My name is Meghan,’ and didn’t go into any more detail,” Rankin added. “She started passing out sandwiches to the people who were donating [blood] and it was, she was delightful.”
“I didn’t even tell my poor husband,” she said. “So when she came here, he walked in and he met her and she said, ‘Oh, you must be Jimmy!’”
A number of volunteers at the center told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that they had conversations with Meghan and didn’t know who she was until after she departed. Rankin confirmed this, saying that after the news spread that Meghan was in Uvalde, she was approached by several people at the center who chided her for not revealing Meghan’s identity while she was there.
“One of the nurses … came over to me and said, ‘I cannot believe you did not tell us Meghan Markle was here. We were standing right next to her,’” Rankin said. “And the head of the volunteer crew said, ‘I stood there and talked to her for 10 minutes. I had no idea.’ And I said, ‘That’s what they wanted. They didn’t want you to know that she was here.’”
Rankin said that she spoke with Meghan for about 20 minutes about the tragedy, the blood drive, the work that the center does — and the Sussex family’s life in the United States.
“I asked her, ‘So, how’s your husband doing?’” Rankin said. “She said, ‘He’s doing very well.’ And then she whispered to me, ‘Don’t believe what you read.’”
Rankin also told Meghan about the community center’s Quilts of Grace program and how they give quilts to kids who have been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect.
“And tears came in her eyes,” she said. “And tears came in her eyes when she was talking about the tragedy that happened here, and the families, and the children,” she said.
Rankin also shot down internet speculation that Meghan visited the center with an accompanying camera crew or personal photographer.
“It was not a photo op,” she said. “I reiterate: Meghan did not bring any cameras with her. She didn’t bring any reporters.”
In fact, she said, Meghan had expressed a desire to stay at the center for more time, but she and her security team left when Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke arrived with a crew of news reporters in tow.
“As a matter of fact, as soon as his team arrived for him to get the notoriety of giving blood — when Beto’s crew arrived, they left. And I didn’t know that they had left.”
Rankin said she got a call from Meghan’s security team apologizing for the quick exit, as they didn’t want the duchess to be recognized by the members of the press arriving with O’Rourke.
She said Meghan told her that she had made several other quiet stops at various locations around Uvalde.
“There were other places in town that knew she was coming because she did the same thing,” she said. “She went into other places around town incognito. No one knew she was here.”
Rankin said that, because of the promise she’d made to keep the visit secret, she only agreed to talk with BuzzFeed News after her contact from Meghan’s team told her it was OK, as news of the duchess's Uvalde visit had been made public.
In response to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the duchess confirmed that Meghan had made “multiple stops” in Uvalde but declined to provide details of the other locations that were visited. The Sussex spokesperson emphasized that the duchess had traveled in her personal capacity as a mother, without any press or media coordination.
“‘It’s about the kids. It’s about the families. And I don’t care if anyone knows that I’m here’ — she told me that herself personally,” Rankin said.