The parents of a 19-year-old killed this summer in a wrong-way wreck in the U.K. say that President Donald Trump “seemed warm” when he met them at the White House Tuesday — but he caught them by surprise by trying to get them to meet there with the woman who had fatally crashed into their son.
“He offered his condolences, he seemed warm and he was welcoming, which was nice, but it didn’t take long for him to then drop into the conversation that Anne Sacoolas was in the building,” Charlotte Charles, the mother of Harry Dunn, said in a joint interview with Harry’s father on CBS This Morning on Wednesday.
Tim Dunn, Harry’s dad, described the offer as something that “took your breath away.” He said Trump mentioned it several times while meeting with them, suggesting it would be healing.
“It was a bit of pressure,” Tim said.
Trying to get Harry’s parents to meet with Sacoolas, 42, was the brainchild of U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, a lawyer for Harry’s parents told Reuters.
According to Charles, Harry’s mom, there were photographers present and she believed that Sacoolas was likely just in the next room for the camera-ready moment, should they assent.
“We couldn’t smile in a situation like that, so it certainly wouldn’t have been a warming photograph for them to have taken,” Charles said on CBS, “and also we were shown out of a side entrance away from most of the American press because I guess they didn’t get what they were hoping for us to agree to.”
In recent weeks, Harry’s parents have launched a public campaign urging Sacoolas, the wife of an American diplomat, to return to the U.K. and “face the justice system.”
Sacoolas reportedly returned to the U.S. after the deadly crash, which occurred on Aug. 27 while Harry was on his motorcycle.
Police have said Sacoolas told them she had no plans to leave the area in the “near future.” But then she left the U.K. under cover of diplomatic immunity, according to The New York Times, and British officials have since weighed in on the side of Harry’s parents.
“I do not think that it can be right to use the process of diplomatic immunity for this type of purpose, and I hope that Anne Sacoolas will come back and will engage properly with the processes of laws that carried out in this country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC last week.
The Times reported that the British government formally asked that Sacoolas’ immunity be waived, but the U.S. government declined. (While the State Department has described Sacoolas as the wife of an American diplomat, CBS called him an “intelligence officer.”)
Trump has acknowledged the “anger” stirred by the case but also expressed sympathy for Sacoolas, whose representative said in a statement that she was “driving on the wrong side of the road and had no time to react … the crash happened too fast,” according to NBC.
“You know those are the opposite roads; that happens,” Trump said last week. “I won’t say it ever happened to me, but it did.”
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, he confirmed he’d met with Harry’s mom and dad and “offered to bring the [driver] in question in and they weren’t ready for it.”
According to an earlier statement on her behalf, quoted by the Associated Press, Sacoolas was “devastated by this tragic accident. No loss compares to the death of a child and Anne extends her deepest sympathy to Harry Dunn’s family.”
Sacoolas cooperated with authorities at the scene, according to that statement. (Her attorney could not immediately be reached by PEOPLE.)
Reuters reported that Sacoolas did want to meet Harry’s family — though his parents have maintained that should be in the U.K., which they repeated on CBS.
“It needs to be on U.K. soil and with therapists and mediators. And that’s not just for us, that’s for her as well,” Charles said. “She’s traumatized, her children are traumatized. To be thrown into a room together with no prior warning — that’s not good for her mental health, it’s certainly not good for ours.”
Asked for comment about the meeting, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tells PEOPLE: “The President met with members of the Dunn family to personally offer his condolences for the loss of their son. His intent was to do all he could to comfort the victims of a tragic accident. This was at the request of [U.K.] Prime Minister Boris Johnson.”
“It was closed press,” Grisham says, referring to how White House reporters were not in the room when Trump met with Harry’s parents. “How is that made for TV?”