INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — On the day that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin declared a “day of prayer” for the small community impacted by last week’s deadly school shooting, Bevin was speaking to an elite group of GOP donors at a private retreat in California.
Bevin was a featured guest Sunday at the exclusive weekend retreat near Palm Springs, California, sponsored by the political network backed by conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch. He was one of just two governors on the guest list.
The Republican Kentucky governor did not address the shooting directly in multiple appearances attended by the Associated Press, which was allowed to cover parts of the private event.
In one panel discussion with reporters, he promoted his efforts to help rehabilitate felons.
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“We’ve created an entire third class of citizens,” Bevin said, endorsing the Kochs’ push to reduce prison populations and restore rights to some felons.
At a subsequent speech before roughly 550 elite Koch donors, he drew a standing ovation after likening the conservative money men to “modern-day John Hancocks,” a reference to the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.
“Let’s protect our culture,” he declared. “Our culture is crumbling.”
Representatives from Bevin’s office did not respond to an email asking whether he had attended weekend visitation and funerals for the shooting victims.
Last week, when asked about his response to the shooting, Bevin said he believes in being “hands on as much as possible, hands off as much as necessary.” He flew to Marshall County on the day of the shooting and met with some victims’ families. He went back on Friday to sign a proclamation declaring Sunday to be “A day of prayer for Marshall County.” He signed the proclamation at an event in the community and publicly embraced some family members of a student who was killed in the attack.
Sunday, Bevin’s official Twitter account posted video of him signing the proclamation and “urged Kentuckians of all faiths to pray earnestly today for God’s comfort upon the victims and their families.” Bevin’s account did not mention he was at the Koch event in California.
“They know they have my prayers. They know they have my heart,” Bevin said of Marshal County last week when asked about his response to the shooting.
Patrick Adamson is the youth director at Briensburg Baptist Church in Benton, Kentucky. His church youth group includes students that attend Marshall County High School, where the shooting took place. He said he had no issue with Bevin traveling out of state on a day he had set aside for prayer.
“I think (you) can participate in a day of prayer no matter where you are,” Adamson said. “The people that I’ve talked to in the community think that he responded in a fantastic manner. His response has exceeded most of our expectations here.”
The high school reopened Friday. Police say a 15-year-old boy opened fire into the school’s crowded common area just before classes were to begin. Two students were killed, 14 others were shot and injured and seven more were hurt in the frenzied evacuation that followed.
The shooter faces preliminary charges of murder and assault. Authorities have not named him publicly because he is a juvenile. But prosecutors have said they are seeking to try him as an adult.
Beam reported from Frankfort, Kentucky.