Former Marshall County High School practicum student reacts to shooting

Photo courtesy of Kenley McNamara

Story by Ashley Traylor, News Editor

“I’ve always tried to take the extra effort and understand where each of my kiddos come from,” she said. “How is their home life? How are they treated by their peers? Are they happy?”

Kenley McNamara, Murray State alumna and teacher at Crittenden County Middle School, said she has caught herself worrying about each of her students even more since a 15-year-old male student opened fire on his classmates at Marshall County High School on Jan. 23.

“Even the ones who never give me a reason to think they’re anything other than happy and cared for,” McNamara said. “I don’t want to miss anything.”

McNamara completed her mega-practicum at Marshall County High School, which is the step before student teaching. For her, the shooting hit a deeper emotional level because she has friends, mentors, previous coworkers and family members who are part of the Marshall County community. The school has a special place in her heart.

The tragedy has sparked conversation in her classroom, as she said students in the western Kentucky area are scared and shaken.

“I think you do the best you can [to address questions and concerns],” McNamara said. “You make yourself approachable as a teacher. You make all kids feel like they could tell you anything. You make them feel welcome, like they’re important, and more importantly, like they’re loved. I think we can do a better job of teaching our kids to cope with emotions they’ll face for the rest of their lives.”

During active shooter drills, McNamara said it is critical for students to understand it is a serious matter, while giving them peace of mind by building trust with their teachers, yet no one can truly be prepared for such an event as the Marshall County shooting.

“I tell my kids that I will do whatever it takes to keep each and every one of them safe,” McNamara said. “And they trust me. They know that I genuinely mean that. In a situation like this, trust goes a long way.”

She said her heart breaks for the Holt and Cope families, whose students died in the tragedy. But, she also hurts for the shooter’s family, because she said they are also experiencing loss.

“You know, they lost their son,” she said. “Not from this earth, but physically; he will never return home. Mentally with that probably isn’t the baby they raised. And emotionally, they will have to go through a grieving stage like nothing others know. Not only do they experience loss, but they have to experience the grief of the loss of others.”

After the shooting, she spoke to teachers at Marshall County, and they told her it was their “worst nightmare.”

“They said it was unbelievable how milliseconds felt like an eternity,” McNamara said. “But, they refuse to let it define them as educators. They showed up ready on Friday to welcome their kids home. Marshall County High School is their home. They absolutely refuse to let someone take that away from them.”

The Marshall County community also refuses to let this incident define their school or their community, as they will not go down in history as just another location of a school shooting.

McNamara said their support system is one that other communities envy, because they are a “strong, tight-knit community.”

“It’s like one giant family,” she said. “The love that they share for fellow Marshall Countians is simply unreal. This will not define them.”

Karly Hardin, Marshall County High School alumna and Murray State student, said she never expected a shooting to happen at her high school; it’s the last place she thought human suffering would occur.

“It’s just hard to believe because it’s always something you see on the news happening somewhere else, and you don’t really think of it happening,” Hardin said. “You don’t put yourself in those people’s shoes, or you can’t.”

Like McNamara, she said Marshall County is a rural, close-knit community, “where everyone wishes the best for everybody else,” and they have rallied around each other.

“Marshall County people come together more than any community around here, I think when something tragic happens,” Hardin said.

Since the shooting, not only have the surrounding cities come together to support Marshall County— Kentucky has banded together, as well.

Vigils were held across the western Kentucky area, and many businesses are showing their “Marshall Strong” support through t-shirts and bracelets.

Shop Local Kentucky online store created an orange and blue “Marshall Strong” t-shirt, in which shirt sales have raised over $100,000 to benefit the victims and their families, according to their website.

Reel Southern in Benton, Kentucky and Action Sports in Paducah are also selling “We are Marshall” shirts. Proceeds from these sales will go toward those affected.

Several businesses in Murray have placed bows in the school’s colors on their mailboxes. Carey’s Boutique had a Marshall Strong benefit weekend where a portion of their sales Friday, Jan. 26 though Sunday, Jan. 28 were given to the victims and their families.

The Kentucky Oaks Mall in Paducah is promoting “Marshall Strong” with a blue and orange balloon arrangement and a sign that reads, “We are all Marshals.”  

“We have to take care of our people first,” McNamara said. “No matter how hard it is, we can’t skip over the love that families, kids and communities need. Does something need to be done? Absolutely. Go to the right people…We need to get back into a compassion first mindset.”