'An amputation of our heart': Victims speak as Parker sentenced to life

(Left to right) Jasen Holt, Brian Cope, Secret Holt and Teresa Cope, the parents of Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, who were killed in the January 2018 Marshall County High School shooting, hug after testifying at the sentencing of shooter Gabe Parker on Friday. Parker was sentenced to life in prison, and will not be eligible for parole until he’s served 20 years.

As tears flowed and mourners embraced and released agony and rage pent up over the last 871 days, Gabe Parker rarely lifted his eyes.

His surgical mask fogging up his glasses, Parker never spoke except to answer the judge on his rights waivers and didn’t visibly react when Marshall County Circuit Judge Jamie Jameson pronounced his sentence:

Life in prison.

Parker pleaded guilty in April to two counts of murder and 14 counts of assault in the Jan. 23, 2018, shooting that killed Bailey Holt and Preston Cope at Marshall County High School.

His plea — or more specifically, the prosecution’s acceptance of an agreement his defense team said he was long willing to make — averted a trial that was set to start at the beginning of this month and could have lasted six weeks or more.

Able to address Parker for the first time since the shooting in the commons area at the high school just before the start of class that day, victims’ families wept over the last kisses they gave their loved ones, mourned the proms, sports seasons and futures of their lost children, and repeatedly described Parker as “evil,” “worthless,” a “demon” and a “waste of space.”

“Gabe Parker, you have taken away our son, and there’s nothing left to take,” said Cope’s father, Brian Cope.

He described his son as a “typical boy,” who “loved Star Wars, Harry Potter, collected baseball cards … loved God and lived his life as Christ would want us to live: loving, caring for others, respectful … always putting others before himself.”

“The loss of our son is an amputation of our heart,” Cope said, adding Parker’s age — 15 at the time of the shooting — was irrelevant.

“He became an adult the second he pulled that trigger,” Cope said.

“I don’t see any good when I look at Gabe Parker. He has no remorse and no conscience. I see evil, pure evil.”

Holt’s parents, Jasen and Secret Holt, also spoke, and gave Parker the strongest rebukes heard Friday.

“Our daughter was the sweetest, kindest, most precious soul you would ever meet,” Secret Holt said, recalling “just the best kid ever,” who wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse when she grew up.

“I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her and to have a good day at school, and then I left for work,” she said, telling how her daughter was shot twice and must have only seen “evil, hate, horror, panic.”

“You are a pure spawn of evil and a waste of space that cares nothing about others,” she said, telling Parker he “ripped out our hearts and souls and crushed them into millions of pieces.”

“You’re a sorry, low life demon, piece of garbage and I can’t stand the sight of you,” she said.

Jasen Holt recalled how he woke his daughter that morning “with a kiss on the forehead, as always.”

“Little did I know that in about an hour she would be gone.”

He read Biblical passages mandating “an eye for an eye” and pronouncing that anyone who kills a person should be killed in return.

“I wish that you were put to death,” he told Parker.

“I hate you and I hope that your life is a living hell every day in prison,” Holt said, adding he hoped Parker would “never make it to the parole board.”

“I will never forgive you and I hope you rot in hell. Was your experiment worth it?” he asked.

One of the students injured in the shooting, Mason Cosner, told of surgeries he endured after being hit in the mouth with a bullet, including having one of his arteries closed.

“A lot of us worry about (a shooting) happening every day, that it could happen again,” Cosner said.

While he said he hopes Parker can find God in jail, he also said Parker is “old enough to sit in jail and face the consequences of his actions.”

“When you do something like this, you should never have freedom.”

Three parents of students who were also injured in the shooting spoke.

Justin Keeling, whose son Dalton was hit in the chest, still has nightmares and has to look for an exit whenever he enters a room.

“However many years you get sentenced … Dalton has been sentenced to a lifetime. He will have to deal with this every day for the rest of his life.”

Stephanie Ives, whose son Griffen had to re-learn how to walk after his surgeries, said she was glad Parker didn’t deny his responsibility for the shooting, but said that’s not nearly enough.

“That doesn’t erase the pain of a bullet slicing through his body. That doesn’t dry all the tears that were shed by our family and friends … it certainly doesn’t ease the sorrow of the parents, siblings and grandparents whose sweet babies died at his hand.”

Amy Nelson, whose son Seth was also hurt, said her family has been on an “emotional roller coaster.”

“Yes, at first we were broken and shattered like glass. The pieces have started to come back together,” Nelson said.

“There are two families in this courtroom that will always have a missing piece of the puzzle.”

After the victims’ testimony, Marshall County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust told Circuit Judge Jamie Jameson about Foust’s own job as public address announcer for the school’s baseball team.

“I never got to say, ‘Leading off and playing second base for the Marshals … number five, Preston Cope,’ ” Foust said.

“Brian and Teresa deserved to hear those words.”

Foust said his office would continue to support victims despite the criminal saga being concluded, and he hoped this conclusion would allow some healing to begin.

“We want to make Gabriel Parker a footnote in our history,” the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Tom Griffiths called Parker’s actions “sad and wasteful and destructive,” but said he didn’t believe Parker was evil.

“What I believe is that he was a child, a child who had horribly lost his way. And one day I hope that he finds it, judge. I really do, because he has a lot to atone for.”

Jameson, who cried at multiple points during the testimony, lamented that whatever his legal responsibilities, he could never replace the loss of the children who were killed, and said he hoped to provide “some peace.”

Jameson also read biblical passages, including from the book of Revelation, in which it’s said that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

He also told Parker he couldn’t make sense of the motivation for the shooting.

“I don’t know how you get to the point where you discount the value of life down to the equivalent of a computer game,” he said.

“The other option is that you really truly are just a cold blooded murderer.”

Jameson sentenced Parker to serve a life sentence for each of the two murder charges, both to run concurrently, with 20-year sentences for the eight counts of first-degree assault and 10-year sentences on the six counts of second-degree assault also running concurrently.

He ended the hearing with a simple “God bless you all.”