MARSHALL COUNTY, KY — Who said what, and when did they say it? The politicization of the Marshall County High School shooting is leading the news again Friday night.
To bring you up to speed, the controversy centers around comments made during the gubernatorial debate in Lexington on Tuesday between Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Andy Beshear. During the debate, Beshear said he met with the parents of the shooting victims and offered them every resource.
Thursday, Marshall County Judge Executive Kevin Neal sent a letter to the attorney general saying family members of 12 of the victims told him they were never approached by Beshear or his staff after the shooting. That charge was refuted by by two other then Marshall County officials who were there at the time.
Here's how it actually played out in the debate: The two candidates were asked a question about Senate Bill 1, Kentucky's new school safety law that requires schools to take a number of safety measures but provides no funding.
Here's what both candidates said:
Bevin: "I'm a strong advocate for that bill, SB 1. I worked very closely with these families. I still wear a bracelet that was given to me by the parents of students who were killed most recently in Marshall County. This is something real to our families. I tell you this though, we don't know exactly what the cost will be or what the solution is. We don't."
Beshear: "I too also met with the parents of the Marshall County High School shooting, and while I didn't go in front of the cameras, what I offered them was every resource of our office to help prosecutors make sure we secure justice in that situation for the families. This governor has had four years to fund school safety, but he simply hasn't."
Three Marshall County officials have confirmed publicly that Beshear did speak with families at the first court appearance of the accused Marshall County High School shooter, which was held two days after the shooting.
We spoke with them about why they needed to set the record straight.
It all started with a tweet from Gov. Matt Bevin Thursday morning.
Bevin said: "For the last 39 hours, I have heard from many members of the Marshall County community who have expressed variations of hurt, anger, outrage, disgust and heartbreak at the blatant lie told by @andybeshearky about him having met with them. He never did! He owes them an apology!"
For the last 39 hours, I have heard from many members of the Marshall County community who have expressed variations of hurt, anger, outrage, disgust and heartbreak at the blatant lie told by @AndyBeshearKY about him having met with them— Matt Bevin (@MattBevin) October 17, 2019
He NEVER did!
He owes them an apology!
Former Marshall County Attorney Jeffrey Edwards said that wasn't true.
"I saw that tweet, so I just responded with a simple tweet, and you know, this thing kind of grew with this letter, and all so I just felt the need to respond in like kind."
The letter he's talking about is the one from Neal. The judge executive read it aloud in a live video on the fiscal court's Facebook page.
Under that video, Marshall County Assistant County Attorney Jacob Ford wrote a comment saying he had to clear things up about Beshear's visit.
It says in part, "He (Beshear) refused to hold a press conference for the media who were packed into the lobby, so after the meeting, he quietly exited through the back stairs to meet with the families upstairs."
Ford added in a statement: "It is unfortunate that what probably started out as honest confusion has snowballed into an unnecessary distraction from the task at hand — justice for these victims and their families."
I spoke over the phone with former Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship, who said Beshear told him he was not there for himself. Blankenship added: "He made that clear to me ... He (Beshear) was very involved, just not from the public view."
Beshear spoke to our affiliates in Lexington about the issue. "We walked in, and it was the families who were there for they very first hearing in that case. I remember a gentleman sobbing, sobbing and didn't stop the entire time I was speaking. I'm not sure he ever looked up, but you could feel his pain and you could recognize how people might not remember or recall us being there," Beshear said.
We received this statement from Marshall County Judge Executive Kevin Neal at 4:38 p.m., before this story aired:
"As stated in my letter, (that is attached), I recognize the fact that Beshear may have been at the Judicial Building which has since been confirmed by others but not Beshear himself. I simply asked for clarification as to which victims parents he actually met with. The majority of the victims parents did not meet with him and this has prompted their demand for clarification. As Marshall County Judge Executive I am requesting this on their behalf. As of this email I have yet to receive a response from Beshear. I did not speak with Gov. Bevin."
I also contacted the three commissioners on the fiscal court to ask if they supported the letter sent on their behalf. District 2 Commissioner Monti Collins and District 3 Commissioner Kevin Spraggs have not responded to my request for a comment. District 1 Commissioner Justin Lamb said he stands by Neal's letter.
In a statement, Lamb said: "I stand by Judge Neal's letter to Attorney General Andy Beshear asking for clarification in comments made at Tuesday night's debate concerning meeting with the parents of the Marshall County High School shooting. It is very unfortunate this tragic incident which impacted our entire community has been politicized in this year's governors race. My thoughts and prayers remain with the victims and their families."
I called Bevin's campaign manager and his communication director at his office, but I haven't heard anything back.