The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A lawmaker’s aide called school-shooting survivors crisis actors. Within hours, he was fired.

Students of the Florida school where 17 people died last week announced nationwide marches for gun control on March 24. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

A Florida legislator’s aide was fired Tuesday after claiming two survivors of the Parkland high school shooting were not students, but instead “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

Benjamin Kelly, who worked as district secretary for state Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa), sent an email to a Tampa Bay Times reporter about Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, two Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who had given an interview to CNN.

Gonzalez and Hogg survived the Valentine’s Day massacre at the school that left 17 people dead and dozens of others wounded. Appearing on CNN early Monday morning, the students called for disbanding the NRA and for stricter gun-control laws.

“The fact that you were in power for so long, that you had so much influence for so long in America just goes to show how much time and effort we still need to spend on fixing our country,” Gonzalez said of the NRA. “And gun control is just the first thing right now.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Kelly sent an email to the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, Alex Leary, writing that the two teens “are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

When the Times asked Kelly to support his claim, he sent a link to a YouTube conspiracy video about Hogg.

“There is a clip on you tube that shows Mr. Hogg out in California. (I guess he transferred?),” Kelly said in the email, according to the newspaper.

An article published in the Coral Springs Talk on Feb. 8, six days before the shooting, named Hogg as a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and featured a documentary he made about efforts by astronomy students to launch a weather balloon and an attached craft into space. Gonzalez was featured in the video as the project’s tracking team leader.

After the exchange with Kelly, the Times contacted Harrison, who said: “If my aide disparaged a student from Parkland who is grieving then I will deal most strongly with my aide. … Clearly it was inappropriate for him to send that.”

He survived the Florida school shooting. He vows not to return to classes until gun laws change.

On Tuesday afternoon, Harrison tweeted that Kelly was put on leave.

Less than two hours later, he said that Kelly had been fired. Harrison also apologized to grieving families for Kelly’s comments.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he was “shocked and angry” after reading Kelly’s comments.

Corcoran, a Republican, said he fired Kelly, with Harrison’s “full support.”

“On behalf of the entire Florida House, I sincerely apologize to the students targeted and again commend them for their courage through this unspeakable tragedy,” Corcoran tweeted.

Kelly also took to Twitter, and said he had made a mistake.

“I’ve been terminated from the State House,” he wrote. “I made a mistake whereas I tried to inform a reporter of information relating to his story regarding a school shooting. This was not my responsibility. I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland.”

He later tweeted: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

His Twitter account later appeared to have been deleted altogether.

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