Marshall County community remembers victims and honors heroes a month after mass school shooting
From heartbreak, there is also heroism. Students helping each other escape the shooting.
BENTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Jan. 23, the unthinkable unfolded in a quiet Kentucky community.
Eighteen students were injured and two 15-year-olds were killed at Marshall County High School when one of their classmates opened fire. A month later, the community still stands strong, but a lot of healing still needs to happen.
"You can't replace life," said Trent Lovett, Superintendent of Marshall County Schools.
Lovett said what gets him through these difficult days is watching how resilient students have been in the wake of the tragedy. He was one of the first to go into the high school that day after a frantic call from the principal that a person was down.
"When I went to the commons area and saw what I saw, I knew it was bad at that point." Lovett said. "There were three victims down in the commons area."
He asked school officials where the shooter was, but no one knew. Minutes after a witness told dispatcher he may have been in the weight room, 15-year-old Gabe Parker was caught.
"I didn't worry if i ran into him," Lovett said. "That thought never crossed my mind. In fact, I was sort of hoping I would.
"I don't know (what I would have done). That's hard to say. I would have definitely tried to stop him from whatever he was doing."
What Lovett did come across was a heartbreaking scene, and he had to make a gut-wrenching choice. He found Preston Cope, who had been shot. Lovett knew Preston wouldn't survive, and the sound of the 15-year-old's ringing cell phone cut through the chaos. The screen said "Dad."
Lovett said he knew if he was calling, he'd want someone to answer. He also knew Preston's father.
"He said 'What's going on?'" Lovett recalled. "I remember saying, 'It's not good. Just pray, and get here whenever you can.'"
Lovett said Preston's family was able make it to the high school before their son was flown off to a hospital, where he later died.
Parker, a student at Marshall County High School, is now charged with murdering Preston Cope and Bailey Holt and shooting 14 others who survived. Four other students were injured trying to escape the school.
"Nobody expected that of him, because he was super sweet," said Marshall County student Jesus Lara. "He was smart.
"He would look at you every day and say. 'Hi, how are you?' and personally care about you. He would just be nice, and all of a sudden, people can change."
"Obviously there is a sense of anger about why," Lovett added. "What could possibly be going so wrong that something like this would happen? I also worry about him."
But with the heartache from the shootings also come stories of heroism. Tanner Fuller said he was near the office in the school, just 30 feet from where Parker opened fire. One of those he hit was Daniel Austin.
"When shots started, I ran behind me where the door was," Fuller said. "When I was running through the hallway, I saw Dan limping along, holding his shoulder, so I grabbed him."
Fuller took Austin to a clearing outside the school. He said he then helped his classmate get into another student's car, and that student rushed Austin to the hospital.
"He had blood all over all down his front," Fuller said. "I had blood all over me from helping him. It was pretty graphic."
Andrea Austin, Daniel's mother, said she's thankful for Fuller and the other student for saving Daniel's life, adding that he's doing OK, all things considered.
"He still has his moments of questions and anger and sadness ... but that's to be expected," she said. "Physically, he's much better. He still has a long road ahead. He doesn't have full use of his hand yet, but he's making progress."
In the tight-knit community, the tragedy has brought students closer together. School leaders considered boarding up the commons area where the shootings took place, but students wanted to keep it open.
"It seems like there are more people showing care for each other," Lovett said. "If someone is sitting alone, someone will go over to talk to them or give them a hug.
"For the most part, those students are standing back where they were when it happened. I'm not going to say everything is perfect, because some days are easier than others, because they are for me too."
And there are other daily reminders of what has changed. Before going into the school, students are now checked with a metal wand and have all bags inspected.
"It's still really on edge," Fuller said of the mood around school. "It's improved, [but] you don't want to make any loud noises. You want to be careful not to drop anything."
Of those injured in the shooting, all but two have returned to class. Lovett said anniversaries of the shooting will be hard, but he's thankful for the support that has come from across the country, including social media posts that keep the spirit of the victims alive, reminding people to be like Bailey Holt.
"Everyone liked to be around her, always smiling," Lovett said. "Those are the traits, when you say 'Be Like Bailey,' that's what they're talking about."
He said #MarshallStrong also has a meaning.
"If you come into the school into this community, ... we have each other's back," Lovett said.
The Sweet Tee Company in Benton raised over $40,000 to help the victims' families through T-shirt sales. They are selling #MarshallStrong shirts, and people in 49 states have purchased one.
"We're glad to play a small role in helping the families to do something," said Trista Larkin, the co-owner of Sweet Tee. "When tragedy hits, you often feel helpless, and we wanted to do something."
Kline's Designs said it also raised over $750 for the Cosner family, whose son was shot. Click here for information on their fundraiser.
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