Parkland parent calls Marjorie Taylor Greene's comments “painful”

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Tony Montalto, whose daughter was killed during the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, said Thursday that comments Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene made in the past — which included a suggestion the mass shooting at the school was a “false flag” event — are “painful to our families.” 

“It’s been nearly three years since I last sent my daughter out the door to school. And it’s also been nearly three years since I held her cold and lifeless body,” he said on CBSN. “I promise you that was not a staged event.”

Greene’s views have faced a slew of backlash after old social media activity and claims of hers recently came to light. In videos and social media posts before she was elected to Congress, Greene embraced far-right conspiracy theories. She also shared videos with anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment, and indicated support for violence against Democratic leaders.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy condemned Greene’s comments Wednesday, but declined to strip her of her assignments on the House Budget Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. Democrats advanced a resolution calling for her committee ouster, which the House is set to vote on Thursday afternoon. 

Montalto is president of Stand with Parkland, an organization focused on school safety reform. The group sent a letter to McCarthy on Wednesday and said that in light of her prior comments, they were concerned that Greene could not perform her duties on the education committee.

“Her remarks cause great pain to the victims’ families who suffer every day without our sons, daughters, and spouses,” the letter said. “Her prior claims that these events never occurred all but ensure she will be unable to join the efforts to prevent them.”

As the House was set to vote on the measure Thursday to strip Greene of her committee assignments, Greene said in a speech on the House floor that she believed children deserve protection from school shootings, but she also likened the press to QAnon, saying that the media was as divisive as conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon supporters. 

Earlier, in addressing her GOP colleagues on Wednesday, Greene said she believes school shootings are real and called them “awful,” and she apologized for her past support for QAnon conspiracy theories, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

Montalto said Thursday that individual members of Stand with Parkland reached out to Greene and spoke with her on the phone ahead of her remarks on Wednesday.

“I believe that is part of why she changed her story somewhat,” he said. “It’s painful that we had to reach out and explain that the tragic deaths of our children or our loved ones at school needs to be explained to people.”

Although mass shootings events have decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, Montalto warned that the risk of violence is high as schools begin to reopen. A 2019 U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center report found that between 2008 and 2017, 41% of targeted school attacks took place during the first week back to school following a break in attendance. 

“Clearly, COVID-19 has given a long break in attendance to many students,” Montalto said. “While some students have been home in a comfortable and caring environment, some students haven’t had that pleasure. Some students have had some difficulty in their homes, some students who were getting mental health treatment before this have not been able to access that care. I just caution our nation’s school professionals, law enforcement, mental health professionals and teachers, that as these students return we keep an eye on them.”

Montalto praised a bipartisan group of lawmakers who recently introduced the Luke and Alex School Safety Act in the House and Senate. Republican Senators Ron Johnson, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio introduced the bill in the Senate Friday, and a bipartisan group of representatives introduced a companion bill in the House on Wednesday.

The act will codify a federal clearinghouse for best safety practices in schools, Montalto said. 

“Here we are, spending a majority of our conversation talking about one person who is not doing the right thing in the House. But I didn’t see much play about this group of representatives that came together in a bipartisan fashion to introduce this vital act.”

Montalto encouraged lawmakers to continue working together. “We need to have that compassion and kindness for one another, the things that many of us try to teach our children, he said. “I know that’s what we taught our daughter Gina.”

Montalto said his daughter Gina was a Girl Scout, a volunteer at a local church, a member of her school’s color guard team and illustrated for local magazines. 

“Gina believed in helping others. She acted as she volunteered, for a group of kids with differing abilities,” he said. “She always spread kindness and she had a smile that would light up a room. And truly, the world is a poorer place for her not being here with us.”

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