Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison, Tampa Republican, was fired Tuesday after falsely claiming that two students who survived last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are actors who travel from tragedy to tragedy.
Mr. Kelly, 61, made the comment in an unsolicited email sent to a Tampa Bay Times journalist earlier Tuesday in response to a photograph of Stoneman Douglas students David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez published alongside an article written about the mass shooting’s aftermath, the newspaper reported.
“Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen,” Mr. Kelly wrote in an email sent from his official myfloridahouse.gov account, The Times reported.
Pressed for evidence, Mr. Kelly sent a subsequent email linking to a “conspiracy video” hosted on YouTube, the report said.
“There is a clip on you tube that shows Mr. Hogg out in California. (I guess he transferred?)” the aide wrote.
Mr. Kelly’s claim instantly drew rebuke on social media upon being shared afterwards by The Times, including by lawmakers and survivors alike.
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“Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency,” tweeted. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican.
“We are KIDS — not actors,” tweeted Jaclyn Corin, the school’s 11th-grade class president. “We are KIDS that have grown up in Parkland all of our lives. We are KIDS who feared for our lives while someone shot up our school. We are KIDS working to prevent this from happening again. WE ARE KIDS.”
Mr. Harrison said that he disagreed with his aide’s comments and had suspended him after learning about them, The Times reported.
Mr. Kelly was subsequently fired by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the report said.
“I’ve been terminated from the State House,” Mr. Kelly announced on Twitter afterwards. “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.”
Seventeen people were killed and more than a dozen injured after former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire inside the school last on Feb. 14, armed with a legally acquired semi-automatic rifle, according to police.
Mr. Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and is being held without bond.
Conspiracy theories surrounding the tragedy have surfaced in the week since, including unfounded claims that Stoneman Douglas students who survived the shooting are “crisis actors,” or being coached by the mainstream media to use the massacre to lobby for gun control.
“I’m not a crisis actor,” David, 17, told CNN on Tuesday. “I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this, and I continue to be having to do that.
“I’m not acting on anybody’s behalf,” he said.