“Jaws dropped to the ground,” Howard said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” recalling an emergency cast meeting called upon news of Smollett’s attack.
“And then when we learned that there had been letters sent to Fox (the broadcast network on which “Empire airs) as threats about the potential for something like this and then we became much more frightened.”
Chicago police have said a letter received at Fox offices last week included threats and an anti-gay slur directed at Smollett.
Howard, referring to role Smollett plays on the hit TV show, said that “for 17 hours a day, Jussie Smollett is my son.”
He added, “So you’re feeling this helplessness, this hopelessness that your children ― the people that you love ― aren’t safe.”
The Chicago Police Department confirmed to HuffPost on Tuesday that a cast member on the Fox drama was the target of a “possible racially-charged assault and battery,” with the victim later being identified as Smollett. He was admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital after the attack and has been released, with police describing him as being in “good condition.”
Two unknown men shouted “racial and homophobic slurs” before attacking the actor by pouring “an unknown chemical substance” on him and wrapping a rope around his neck, according to police. Smollett also told police the attackers said, “This is MAGA country,” referring to President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Henson, Smollett’s on-air mom, shared an emotional video on social media in the wake of the attack.
“I wish what happened to my baby was just one big bad joke but it wasn’t and we all feel his pain right now. Jussie Smollett is pure love to the bone AND THAT IS WHY SO MANY ARE FEELING HIS PAIN BECAUSE IT IS OUR PAIN!!!” she wrote.
Howard also spoke of Smollett’s energy on set and said that he’s “the one that starts singing when everybody’s in a bad mood. He’s the one that cheers everybody up. He’s the one that does all the Instagrams if he catches you sleeping.”
“Today, no one was caught sleeping,” Howard said. “No one even took time to close their eyes and nap. They were all in shock that our family — you know, the Fox family, the Empire family… were attacked by a bunch of hyenas today.”