A Florida congressman's aide has been fired after spreading a conspiracy theory that some of the Flordia school shooting victims calling for gun control were actors.
Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Republican state representative Shawn Harrison, sent an email to a Tampa Bay Times journalist claiming that two survivors of the Parkland tragedy, speaking up after 17 of their classmates were killed in a school shooting, were not real students.
The 61-year-old wrote: "Both kids in the picture are not students [at Stoneman Douglas] but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen."
The newspaper reported that after it asked for evidence for this allegation, the aide sent a YouTube conspiracy video targeting one of the students.
After publication of Kelly's claims, he was fired. Harrison said he was “appalled at and strongly denounce his comments”, adding that he was “sorry for any pain this has caused the grieving families of this tragedy”.
He tweeted: "I do not share his opinion and he did so without my knowledge."
Here's the email. I asked for more information to back up the claim and was sent another email that linked to a YouTube conspiracy video. pic.twitter.com/VRSVOcjj3E— Alex Leary (@learyreports) February 20, 2018
Kelly apologised for his actions, saying that he "made a mistake whereas I tried to inform a reporter of information relating to his story regarding a school shooting".
He added: "This was not my responsibility. I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland."
Tonight Mr. Kelly was terminated from his position as my District Secretary. I am appalled at and strongly denounce his comments about the Parkland students. I am again sorry for any pain this has caused the grieving families of this tragedy.— Shawn Harrison (@Shawnfor63) February 21, 2018
Robert Runcie, Broward County school superintendent, told CNN: “These are absolutely students at Stoneman Douglas. They’ve been there. I can verify that.”
He said the comments were "outrageous and disrespectful" and "part of what's wrong with the narrative in this country".
Jaclyn Corin, the school's 11th-grade class president, wrote on Twitter: "We are KIDS — not actors. 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."
Republican Senator Marco Rubio condemned the conspiracy theorists, tweeting: "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."