A Tale of Two Shootings


On Tuesday, January 23, there was a shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, KY. Two students were killed (with 19 injured) by a fellow student. Less than one month later, a shooter killed 17 students (15+ injured) at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

I live in Nashville and watched the Kentucky shooting play out on the national news (though much more on local news, obviously) and I did the same on the day of the Florida shooting. It’s been startlingly obvious that the national media reaction and public frenzy has been decidedly different from the Kentucky shooting and I’ve been wondering why for the last few days.

After the Kentucky shooting, Twitter was ablaze with the usual post-shooting NRA-blaming and gun-control rhetoric, but it died down pretty fast. So much so that when I watched national coverage of the Florida shooting, I was hard-pressed to find references to the Kentucky shooting that happened less than four weeks ago. I’ve seen a couple local articles about reactions about the Florida shooting from the Marshall Co Sheriff and students, but that’s about it.

Why does one tragedy capture attention over another? Is it the number of dead? Do 17 dead students mean more than two? Cynically, I know blood sells, and that may have something to do with it, but I believe it’s bigger than the numbers. In comparing the two situations and outcomes, I wound up focused on two distinct differences: Access and Leadership. (Selfishly, it also gave me the chance to share just how amazing the Benton community has been during their tragedy.)

Access: Logistically, it’s a lot easier for the media to descend on Broward County than on Marshall County. There’s more local media infrastructure already in place and multiple international airports to shuttle in national media.  In contrast, it’s a two-hour drive from the Nashville airport to Benton, KY, and there’s not exactly a bevy of well-seasoned local media affiliates within that radius. Besides the bustling metropolis of Clarksville, TN, there’s mostly just recreational lakes on the way. I’ve come out of this realizing that journalists are like most of us — lazy.  Who wants to truck it down south in the middle of nowhere? National media mostly relied on local media because they didn’t want to do the legwork. This was probably not a good idea for them because local media reported on this as if their own kids were in that school (probably because they were). The reports focus on the escapes, the bravery of kids, the families, etc. It was days before they released the shooter’s name in articles (you could find it, of course, but you had to look hard). He was underage, yes, but it was an obvious tactic from the start to talk less about him than about the victims. Law enforcement, school officials, students, medical personnel, all refused to name him. And after a few days of this, national media lost interest (Even now, if you look up the shooter’s name, he’s not on the first page of results).

Leadership: The admin formed a protective shield immediately and encouraged teachers not to speak to the press in the immediate aftermath.  They banned the press from the school grounds. When looking back at the initial reports, I found only one article that quotes a teacher and it’s obvious he hadn’t gotten the memo yet (he wasn’t in the school when it happened so the press got to him as he waited with everyone else). When it was discovered that the shooter was in band, media staked out the band director’s home. He refused to comment for two to three days while walking from his door to his car. They stopped going to his house. The Marshall students didn’t talk much to the press either. This is not due to lack of information on their part. Text and IMs reveal that most students knew the identity of the shooter within minutes while still hunkered down in classrooms and nearby local businesses while on lockdown.

The Stoneman Douglas kids and teachers, in comparison, have been all over the media from the get-go, culminating, to date, in a CNN town hall. Why the difference? I go back to the leadership. The Marshall admin didn’t ask Kentucky students not to be interviewed, but by example, they showed them what was important. Instead of seeing school officials grandstanding or turning this into a national conversation before the bodies were cold, their only focus was the students. Media was regarded as a nuisance by all adults in those first few hours and days and the students saw that. Students and teachers spent all day and evening together on the day of the shooting. Teachers were not allowed to leave the offsite location until every student’s whereabouts were known, meeting with parents who picked up each one. There was no press allowed. The shooting was on Tuesday. On Friday, the first official, but optional, day back, students were told to enter through the gym and to bring their parents if they wished. Every worker, including teachers, administration, and custodial staff, was standing outside to greet them as they arrived. After hugging on the students, shaking hands with parents, grieving together, they went inside. Again, no press allowed on the grounds.

At this point, the principal spoke to the student body, sharing in the grief, but also keeping them informed, being transparent, as to what had gone on while away (teachers had come to the school Wednesday and Thursday, been interviewed by the FBI, the commons area where the shooting occurred had been cleaned, etc.). The FBI leadership then spoke and told how his entire team had been wowed by the actions of the students at the school while reviewing the tapes. He commended them for quickly running and for picking up others who had fallen to keep them from getting trampled. He also praised the onsite deputy who had run toward the gunfire (it had taken him 30 seconds to run from his morning post in the parking lot to the commons area). Nowhere was there blame in any speech, just praise for doing what good humans do for each other.

From there, students that had been in the commons area during the shooting were taken back there with their parents, while teachers looked on. Sounds kind of morbid, but the administration had already brought in counselors on site specializing in PTSD and terrorist/crisis situations and went with their recommendations. By sharing the details with their parents, walking in the steps they’d been in, you could feel that some of the students really needed to do this. They did this all again on Monday for those who hadn’t come on Friday. School days were shortened to allow for counseling sessions, funerals, and trips to hospitals.

In contrast, the Florida students have been working through their grief and terror live in front of a nation. How can you face or reflect on what has happened if you are being interviewed every day, prompted with questions that are asked, not with your best interests in mind, but for some larger conversation? I don’t know why the admin and the parents didn’t shut this down, though I suspect, if you don’t shut it down from the start, you can’t do it later. Maybe they were too late and couldn’t do anything about it. Maybe the force of the press there has been too much for them to take and once one person talked, the dam exploded. All it takes is one person in charge being sweet-talked (“Don’t you want everyone to hear your story? Don’t you want justice and remembrance for the kids?”) and the ground is hijacked by those who have nothing to do you with your students and community.

Finally, I’ve been to Benton twice since the shootings to visit friends. There are signs with #MarshallStrong and “We Are Marshall” and “For Bailey and Preston” and “Praying for Marshall” in every business and every marquee. You can say this is small-town conservative country so of course it’s to be expected and maybe that’s true. But for those who’ve not spend much time in the south, let me shed some light as only a native-Detroiter, Nashville-transplant can: These students aren’t back-country hicks. They listen to their music more on YouTube and Spotify than the radio and they listen to as much Hip Hop as they do Country. There are at least four students in the school identifying as genders other than the sex specified on their birth certificates and gay students holding hands in the hall is not uncommon. This is also a strong farming area and more kids have fired a gun than have not. They go to church.

Maybe the national press didn’t know what to do with the Kentucky shooting. They didn’t want to go there, they couldn’t get what they wanted out of folks, and no town hall. The shooter didn’t even match the script. He was intelligent, well-liked by teachers and students, participated in school activities (band). He used a handgun, not a rifle. Instead of working for the reporting, they just shrugged and went on.

The Benton community, so far, has chosen to handle their individual actions privately. Some teachers are getting handgun training. Some are throwing full support behind gun control. Parents have withdrawn their kids from school and are now homeschooling. Others are volunteering at the school. And the admin and community are supporting everyone’s right to do whatever they feel is needed to best support their students.  Hats off to them.

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  1. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Excellent, beautiful post.  We are fortunate to have you here, and will look forward to hearing more from you.

    • #1
  2. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell

    My husband used to live near Dunblane, Scotland, and was living near there at the time of the Dunblane massacre; when it happened, news media descended on the town, but according to my husband, the media were universally reviled by the people of Dunblane. A friend of his ran a hotel that was filled for a few days with reporters and their crews, but after a few days, his friend became so disgusted with the media that he kicked them out of his hotel. He just lined them up one morning and said, “Ok, I am checking you out”. “We aren’t ready to leave” they said. “You are leaving” he said. And they did.

    The parents of Benton have done the right thing by shielding their children from the media. Thank you for this post.

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    A poignant post and a great debut for another distinctive voice on Ricochet. Thanks for being here, Elizabeth. We stand taller because someone of your discernment and intelligence chose to join us.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member

    Interesting contrast. Thank you.

    • #4
  5. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy

    @elizabethsalinger Thanks very much for a well written and thought provoking post.  Benton is clearly a community dedicated to doing the right thing.

    • #5
  6. ST Member

    welcome aboard.  should be a bit tricky to attack and destroy your first post in typical Ricochet form because, you know, you’re a chick.

    • #6
  7. OkieSailor Member

    Welcome. Great post. The length is just right, long enough to cover  your points and subject succinctly.

    • #7
  8. Columbo Inactive

    Great post and thank you for sharing these reflections.

    My cynical self also believes another large difference regarding media coverage between the two relates to the dramatic difference in the law enforcement reactions in the two situations. The Benton officer, running towards the shooter totally defeats their ‘guns are bad’ memes.

    • #8
  9. Israel P. Inactive
    Israel P.

    The Florida shooting also had some angles we don’t always hear about. The JROTC kids, the football coach and of course afterwards the screw-ups by law enforcement in all directions. That is all legitimate news, IMHO.

    • #9
  10. St. Salieri / Eric Cook Member
    St. Salieri / Eric Cook

    Thank you.

    • #10
  11. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt

    Welcome, and you started with a good essay, thanks.

    • #11
  12. I Walton Member
    I Walton

    Very interesting.  As to media’s behavior itself, I remember a presentation made almost 50 years ago by a media expert visiting us in Singapore.  He said that establishing a link back then was expensive and complex so once established because of a big story, they’d use the link to generate stories.  He attributed part of the national successes of the civil rights movement to links that were established in key southern cities, and the California is a kooky place to the permanent links to the west coast that had to used even if there were no real news.  It’s easy now, but not without effort or cost and going to Fla in the winter is easier and more welcome, so that probably did play a role.

    In that vein perhaps we should put all New York and Washington reporters on a no fly list, after all they are terrifying.

    • #12
  13. Stad Coolidge

    Elizabeth Salinger: Why does one tragedy capture attention over another?

    This is an easy one.  It has to do with whether or not the event or incident supports the MSM’s leftist position on an issue.  The Charleston church shooting was a classic example.

    After the piece of **** Roof murdered those parisoners at a black church, violent protests sprang up all across the country.  There was endless converage and commentary by the MSM.  Yet when the citizens of Charleston staged a march across the Ravenel Bridge, it was hardly coverage with the same intensity.  Why, because it was peaceful.  There was no yelling and screaming, no violence, no hateful rhetoric, no conservative bashing, and people of all colors and faiths marched.

    However, there was one classic moment when a TV reporter asked a marcher why they weren’t rioting.  The marcher replied, “This is how we riot in Charleston.”

    I wish I could find a link to the video, but I’m sure it’s been taken down by the MSM.  No doubt they would claim the above interview is an urban legend . . .

    • #13
  14. Rodin Member

    I think all of the points made are excellent, but I credit the religious beliefs of the community the most. People of faith see the world as a struggle between good and evil, that man’s own efforts are futile in perfecting the world. So events like this mean that a man has to be fixed, not a society. In contrast, Broward is far more secular and progressive, so the tendency is to blame a perfectible society rather than a broken individual.

    • #14
  15. Ontheleftcoast Inactive

    Excellent post. I’m almost on the same page as @stad in explaining this but I think it boils down to this:

    Trump beat Clinton by less than 120,000 votes in Florida. 49.1% to 47.8%.

    In Kentucky, it was almost a 2:1 Trump victory.

    Factors like religion and community cohesion may explain that difference, but this is about getting kids involved to flip Florida. For the children.

    • #15
  16. Ralphie Inactive

    My nephew died in an accident at age 13. My son went to a different school 100 miles away. At the time, grief counselors were at my nephew’s school. School recessed for the funeral, etc. big deal, big news.  At my son’s school, they didn’t really seem to care that my son was truly grieving. They didn’t offer counseling, etc. (I didn’t expect it, didn’t want their advice, just noticing that the grief counseling provided at schools is kind of a sham. A lot of kids that went to the funeral didn’t even know my nephew,  or probably didn’t like him either)

    I am not a fan of school taking over for the parents when it comes to the death of a child. It is in the family where the loss is felt the most, and they should be left alone. I think the KY school is just a lot wiser.

    • #16
  17. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion

    Great post.  You write like a champ.

    • #17
  18. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin

    I guess they want to point out how the shooter was Hispanic, or was until he pulled the trigger?

    “(There was) pressure from multiple sources to reduce the statistical disparity between black and Hispanic student arrests on one hand and white and Asian student arrests on the other.

    …Nikolas de Jesús Cruz, the adopted son of Lynda and Roger Cruz, became a statistical Hispanic.  As such, authorities at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland had every reason not to report his troubling and likely criminal behavior to the police.

    …In July 2012, the Obama administration formalized the pressure on school districts with an executive order warning school districts to avoid ‘methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.’ …  Like Cruz, (Trayvon) Martin was frequently suspended, three times in his final school year. In one case, Martin had been found with stolen jewelry and burglary tools in his backpack. Had he been arrested and not merely suspended, his parents and his teachers would have known how desperately far he had gone astray. Instead, Martin was ‘diverted’ into nothing useful. …  A secondary motive was to protect Obama’s misbegotten quest to achieve racially statistical ‘equity’ for youthful offenders by not arresting them for very real crimes. Cruz had to have done something more troubling than carry bullets in his backpack. Before even talking about gun control, Republican leaders should demand a complete audit of Cruz’s school records…”


    • #18
  19. Stad Coolidge

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):
    this is about getting kids involved to flip Florida. For the children.

    This may be hitting the nail squarely on the head . . .

    • #19
  20. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow

    Thanks for this.

    • #20
  21. Pugshot Inactive

    Excellent and thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    • #21
  22. Mim526 Inactive

    Welcome to Ricochet, @elizabethsalinger.  Great post!  (For some reason, it seemed to disappear off my feed for awhile earlier today.)

    I lived for several years in different parts of Kentucky, mostly around Lexington and eastern mountain areas.  They’re good folks.  They’re also considered a flyover state by coastal elites, which may also account for some of the emphasis on Florida over Kentucky.   I had to smile reading parts of your post: if a Kentucky town doesn’t want you to know something, they’re not going to tell you whatever the incentive offered…press never had a chance once the community decided they were not wanted :-)

    Good to hear Benton is healing and overcoming.

    • #22
  23. MarciN Member

    Robert Kaplan, who has written about foreign affairs for thirty years, commented twenty years ago in a story about Afghanistan that the reason the world knew so much about Baghdad and so little about Kabul was that Baghdad had many four-star hotels and Kabul had almost none. :)

    Great post. Thank you.

    • #23
  24. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette

    Wonderful post. This should be shared with a much larger audience.

    Thank you.

    • #24
  25. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    Excellent, beautiful post. We are fortunate to have you here, and will look forward to hearing more from you.

    Agree. I didn’t even know about the Kentucky shooting!

    • #25
  26. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    I’ve often wondered why a conservative state like Kentucky keeps sending Mitch McConnell back to the senate year after year.

    • #26
  27. TBA Coolidge

    Welcome to Ricochet. Write more stuff.

    • #27
  28. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler

    MarciN (View Comment):
    Robert Kaplan, who has written about foreign affairs for thirty years, commented twenty years ago in a story about Afghanistan that the reason the world knew so much about Baghdad and so little about Kabul was that Baghdad had many four-star hotels and Kabul had almost none. :)

    Great post. Thank you.

    That is a great story. It explains how vapid the reporters are now.

    I love Kaplan – met him twice and visited with him on a ferry over to a bookstore talk he gave. He was very warm and engaging. He’s been everywhere and he’s a big brain and he can write. Have you read his The Coming Anarchy ? That’s the one I first read of his. He really had the pulse of the middle east and other coming attractions.

    • #28
  29. Ontheleftcoast Inactive

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):
    I’ve often wondered why a conservative state like Kentucky keeps sending Mitch McConnell back to the senate year after year.

    Well, it ain’t how sexy he is so it’s probably pork.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher

    Welcome, Elizabeth, and well done.

    Promoted to the main feed and a link from Powerline!


    • #30
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