Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bennet is dodging responsibility for his role in provoking a student walkout at a vigil for victims of the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting.
Bennet, who has represented Colorado in the Senate since 2009, responded to criticism that a vigil organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on Wednesday was unduly politicized. The vigil drew national attention after a mass of students walked out in protest because numerous speakers, including Bennett, chose to argue in favor of gun-control while honoring the victims.
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"Last night should have been about Kendrick Castillo and the STEM School students," a Bennet spokeswoman said on Thursday. "They are our focus and the event should have been set up to ensure their voices were fully heard."
A copy of the statement was shared on social media by a local Colorado news anchor.
NEW: @SenatorBennet's spokeswoman issues statement on students walking out of a #STEMshooting vigil in protest of the politicization of the event. Unlike event organizer @bradybuzz, Bennet does not apologize. #copolitics #9NEWS pic.twitter.com/FeW94fk7XZ
— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) May 9, 2019
The spokeswoman, however, ignored Bennet's role in triggering the demonstration. Bennet, along with Democratic congressman Jason Crow, used the opportunity presented by the vigil to push for gun-control. Both men made comments interpreted by students, community members, and survivors of the shooting to be inappropriately political.
Bennett particularly drew the ire of the 2,000 in attendance by invoking Kendrick Castillo, the sole fatality of the STEM shooting, to disparage Congressional inaction on gun-control. The senator claimed since Congress was unable to fix "broken gun laws," students, like Castillo—who lost his life leading a group of students to overpower the two gunmen, were forced to take school safety into their own hands.
"Their job is not to fix America's broken gun laws," Bennet told the vigil, as noted by a reporter from The Colorado Sun. "Their job is not to give up their own life…to save their classmates' lives."
Crow only aggravated the crowd further when it was his turn to speak. The freshman democrat, who represents STEM and Highlands Ranch in the House of Representatives, said those gathered already "had his "thoughts and prayers" but deserved and "should demand more."
After Bennet and Crow's remarks, a large portion of the students in attendance chose to walk out of the vigil, rather than listen further. Among those leading the walkout were numerous STEM survivors, who shouted "Don't use Kendrick's name for political reasons!" while exiting. Chants of "Mental Health!" and "It's not about guns," were also heard, the Highlands Ranch Herald reported.
The students were eventually enticed back with the promise that they would be allowed to speak. Many used the chance to express their disappointment with the Bennet, Crow, and the vigil's organizers for politicizing an event meant to honor their fallen friend and classmate.
"This was not a vigil. This was purely a political stunt," one of the students said, according to a local NBC affiliate. "This is not what we wanted for Kendrick."
"We didn't want Kendrick to be a prop," the student continued. "We wanted Kendrick to be mourned, we wanted all of you to join us in that mourning, but that was not allowed here."