David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez are survivors. They attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where Nikolas Cruz’s shooting rampage left 17 people dead. The two students appeared on CNN, asking for tougher gun laws to protect schools. Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Florida House Representative Shawn Harrison, acting on his own accord and without the permission of Rep. Harrison, sent an email to the Tampa Bay Times claiming Hogg and Gonzalez weren’t students but were actually actors who were paid to travel around from crisis to crisis.
The email sent to Alex Leary, a reporter with the Times, alleged that “both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.” The email was signed by Benjamin Kelly in his official capacity as District Secretary for Representative Shawn Harrison. Leary demanded proof of Kelly’s assertion and was sent a link to a video that showed David Hogg in a dispute with a lifeguard over a boogie board in California. Kelly added “There is a clip on you tube that shows Mr. Hogg out in California. (I guess he transferred?)”
An aide to state Rep. Shawn Harrison, using state email, sent me this: "Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen." https://t.co/UFD1ZXGNjr— Alex Leary (@learyreports) February 20, 2018
When Rep. Harrison was made aware of his aide’s claims, he immediately placed Kelly on leave pending an investigation. Harrison then contacted House Speaker Richard Corcoran who fired Kelly. Corcoran released a statement on Twitter on behalf of the Florida House.
“I was shocked and angry to read the appalling email about the brave students who traveled to Tallahassee today. Representative @Shawnfor63 immediately contacted me and with his full support, I terminated the employment of the individual responsible. 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.”
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that Hogg and Gonzalez are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“These are absolutely students at Stoneman Douglas. They’ve been there. I can verify that.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio shared his opinion on Twitter which earned him a “thank you” from David Hogg.
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— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 20, 2018
After being terminated, Kelly posted to Twitter that his email to the reporter was not his responsibility, adding “I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland.” He called Rep. Harrison “an honest and respectable man” and went on to say that Harrison should not “be held responsible for my error in judgement.”
Though Kelly hanged his Twitter handle name and made his account private on Tuesday, his account has since been deleted.