Marshall County High School Shooter Sentenced To Life In Prison
More than two years after opening fire on his classmates, Gabriel Ross Parker, now 18, was officially sentenced to life in prison in Marshall Circuit Court. Parker brought his stepfather’s pistol to Marshall County High School on the morning of Jan. 23, 2018, and opened fire, killing 15-year-olds Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, and injuring more than a dozen others.
During the June 12 final sentencing, Parker had to sit and listen as one of his victims and the families of others spoke directly to him about the lasting damage they face in the wake of his actions, both physical and emotional.
Only one former classmate of Parker’s stood to speak, Mason Cosner, who recalled recovering from the damage of the bullet tearing through the left side of his face, shattering his jaw and permanently damaging one of his arteries. He said he still has bullet fragments in his body. He also spoke to the emotional toll the day of the shooting has on him and his family, specifically his mother. He noted all of his friends were either shot or harmed that day.
“If you can make that kind of decision to start taking the lives or attempt to take the lives of others, then you’re old enough to sit in jail and pay the consequences of your actions,” Cosner said. “And I believe he should spend the rest of his life in prison for his actions.”
Several parents of other children who were injured that day also recalled the medical and emotional trauma they and their children have endured as they work to heal. Many said they hoped to be able to forgive Parker for what he had done, but weren’t there yet. All of them agreed Parker deserved the life sentence.
The final testimonials were from Jasen and Secret Holt, parents of Bailey Holt, and Bryan and Teresa Cope, parents of Preston Cope.
Bryan Cope spoke on behalf of his family, recalling Preston and his love for his family, baseball, ice cream, seafood, history, and his younger brother, Maddox. He detailed the milestones they’ll never get to celebrate with Preston such as graduation, learning to drive, getting married and having children. He said he longs for the days of playing catch in the front yard with his son.
“There’s no reason why his life was ended that day. I ask God to help me see the good in everyone, but I don’t see good when I look at Gabe Parker. I see no conscience, and I see evil,” Cope said. “We don’t know why, we’ll never know why. We just ask God to give us the strength to get through this life and to make this world better.”
Jasen and Secret Holt spoke, Jasen turned to directly face Parker while he read his statement.
Both recalled their last morning with their daughter as she got ready for a routine day. They recalled kissing her forehead and wishing her a good day at school, and the scent of her hair. They recalled the moment they learned of her death, in the parking lot of North Marshall Middle where they were praying she would be one of the children who had been bussed to safety. And they recalled returning home that evening to her fish tank still glowing in the dark of her room, her clean clothes in the dryer, and the pan of homemade brownies on the counter with two squares missing--one for herself and one for the little girl she watched after school.
“Life on earth without her is unbearable,” Secret said. “We are so honored to have been the parents of such a perfect soul.”
Secret also told Parker they now live a life sentence of loneliness, longing for their eldest daughter who they’re only able to visit graveside. She told Parker she believes he’s a “sick, evil demon” and she’s grateful he “will never see the light of day again.”
Jasen also had harsh words for Parker, saying, “I hope prison is hell for you. I hope you never make it to face a parole board. But if you do, I or a member of my family will be there. ...I hope you rot in hell. Was your experiment worth it?”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust, lead prosecutor in the case against Parker, shared personal stories as a graduate of MCHS and recalled how, since the early 70s when that building was originally constructed, the commons area was the heartbeat of the student body. He said Parker violated it.
Foust also said as the community moves forward in the healing process it will celebrate the “heroes” and focus on repairing the fractures that are the result of the shooting. He said Parker will be nothing more than “a footnote.”
Foust also pointed toward memorabilia the Holts and Copes brought to the sentencing and listed the other 14 victims who were injured during the shooting, all of whom either directly wrote or had family members write impact statements on their behalf: Elijah Day, Case Thomasson, Mary Bella James, Mason Cosner, Griffin Ives, Dalton Keeling, Gage Smock, Seth Nelson, William Riley, Daniel Austin, Hannah Dysinger, Devon Evans, Jake Lubeker, Emily Burrow.
Parker didn’t speak for himself. Tom Griffiths, Parker’s defense attorney, said Parker asked him to speak on his behalf.
Griffiths said Parker did “terrible things” that day and has never denied it. He said he understands why some people look at Parker and see evil, but that’s not what he sees.
“I have gotten to know him over the last two years and what I believe is that he was 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,” Griffiths said. “I hope, and he hopes, the end of this legal case in this courtroom can bring the families of the victims at least some small measure of peace.”
Before handing down the final sentence, Marshall Circuit Judge Jamie Jameson, also a graduate of MCHS, cried as he spoke to Parker.
“There’s no sense that can be made out of this. As someone who has always been fascinated by psychology, I can’t make any sense of it. I don’t know how you get to the point where you discount the value of a life down to the equivalent of a computer game where perhaps you thought you could hit the reset button and undo all of this. Or the other option is you really, truly are just a cold-blooded murderer.”
In accordance with the plea agreement Parker accepted in exchange for his guilty plea, Parker is sentenced to two life sentences and 70 years to run concurrently with those life sentences.