BENTON, Ky. – This was supposed to be Spirit Week at Marshall County High School.
Instead, homecoming events were canceled, the governor was in town lamenting the nation’s moral decay, and preparations were being made for the funerals of two 15-year-old children.
Tuesday’s attack by a fellow classmate at the high school left more than a dozen survivors with gunshot wounds or other injuries, and three of them remain hospitalized. Hundreds more were scarred by what they saw.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin called on Americans Friday to “wake up” and recognize that school shootings are a “cultural problem.”
“We have become desensitized to death, we have become desensitized to killing, we have become desensitized to empathy for our fellow man and it’s coming at an extraordinary price and we have got to look at the root causes of this,” Bevin told The Associated Press.
“We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen,” he added.
The Republican governor spoke at a community event in Benton, where he was followed by the father of one of the slain students. Sobbing, Jasen Holt asked for prayers for all the “sweet kids” who were killed, injured or traumatized.
“It’s not only ours, it’s about all of them,” said Holt, whose daughter Bailey Nicole Holt was the first to die. “Just pray and take care of each and every one of them.”
The governor declared a statewide day of prayer Sunday for the grief-stricken county. It was reminiscent of his response to a wave of urban gun violence last year. Bevin called then on the power of prayer to help combat Louisville’s rising murder rate, and urged people to form prayer groups to walk high-crime neighborhoods. Skeptics wondered aloud whether that would deter gun-wielding thugs.
Bevin, a social conservative who has made it clear that he won’t sign laws that restrict guns, said he’s prepared for more skepticism as he once again asks Kentuckians to pray. But he said he believes God intervenes on behalf “of his people” when they call out to him in prayer.
“There are people who do not understand and do not believe in the things we’re talking about right now,” he said. “And there will be all the social media trolls and people that will scorn and mock and will ridicule the fact that we would call out to our creator at a time like this.”
At the same time, Bevin said prayer won’t help explain the inexplicable.
“There really are no answers to the questions that are in our minds,” he said. “And even when we have all the facts, we still don’t have the answers. That’s just a harsh reality of this. Because this side of eternity, there are no answers to the very things that have torn this community apart. But this I know: We can sustain one another, we can support one another.”
Authorities, meanwhile, are hoping to discover why 15-year-old boy would have opened fire on his classmates, all 14 to 18, as they waited for the morning bell Tuesday. Bailey Holt died at the scene, while Preston Ryan Cope was declared dead at a hospital in Nashville.
Brian Cope told the Louisville Courier Journal that he knew his son was among the victims when he peered into an ambulance and saw the Nike socks he had laid out the night before.
“We want to thank each and every person, from the East Coast to the West Coast, because we feel the prayers, we feel so much love,” Cope said.
The high school reopened Friday with an assembly in the gymnasium. Funerals for the two teens will be held Sunday. The families requested privacy, but said they will make a public statement on Saturday.
Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Kentucky. Associated Press Writer Adam Beam in Frankfort contributed to this report.