Santa Fe Victim's Mom Challenged President Trump in Private Meeting for Calling Shooter 'Wacky'
Donald Trump repeatedly called the Santa Fe High gunman "wacky" while speaking at a gathering of survivors and families, according to Rhonda Hart
The mother of a teenage girl killed earlier this month in a massacre at Santa Fe High School in Texas tells PEOPLE she challenged President Donald Trump‘s views on gun violence during his Thursday meeting with survivors of the mass shooting and families of the victims.
Trump, 71, repeatedly called the gunman “wacky” while speaking at the gathering, at a Houston military base, according to Rhonda Hart.
“He kept calling him [the shooter] this wacky kid who was wearing a wacky trench coat,” says Hart, whose 14-year-old daughter, Kimberly Vaughan, was fatally shot along with nine others in the May 18 attack in Galveston County.
At that point, Hart recalls, “I raised my hand and said, ‘I have something to say here. Let’s just get to the mental health part.’ ”
She then explained that her daughter had anxiety, Asperger’s syndrome and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and “took medicine daily.”
“I said, ‘[The shooter] might have been depressed, but he wasn’t wacky.’ But if that kid needed help, he needed to have proper access to it,” Hart says, “meaning you shouldn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act [one of Trump’s cardinal promises] and get them the help they need and take away the stigma of mental illness.”
She says she told Trump, “Mental illness needs to be addressed.”
“I said all that and he didn’t say anything,” she says. “He was just like, ‘Uhhhh …’ ”
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Trump’s meeting with the Santa Fe community — which Hart says was attended by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, among other leaders — was not open to the press, though Hart described some of what was discussed with PEOPLE.
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Trump’s remarks or his interactions with Hart and other attendees.
“These events are very tragic whenever they happen. And you know, the president wants to extend his condolences and talk about the issue of school safety,” administration spokesman Raj Shah earlier said of the meeting, which lasted for more than an hour, according to the Associated Press.
“I think he [Trump] just, you know, he talks to families, he listens and he wants to learn,” Shah said.
After the meeting, Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley reportedly described it as “very impactful” and “a very emotional time” but declined to discuss specifics, citing the privacy of the families.
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Hours after the Santa Fe mass shooting two weeks ago, Trump addressed the nation from the White House where he said, in part, “This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years. Too many decades now.”
He has created a school-safety commission, headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, but has not proposed new legislation, the AP reports.
Abbott, the Texas governor, this week released his own recommendations, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Hart, a 36-year-old bus driver, says she was “really shocked” at Trump’s preference for arming teachers as a solution to curb the regular mass shootings at schools across the country.
Hart says she is not in favor of arming teachers and told Trump and Abbott this, instead saying that she would prefer giving teachers pepper spray while possibly training military veterans to act as guards on campus.
When another parent objected to the effectiveness of using pepper spray against a shooter, Hart says, she “looked Trump straight in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. Trump, have you ever been sprayed with pepper spray?’ He didn’t answer.”
“I don’t think he liked me very much,” Hart says.
She has previously spoken to PEOPLE about how her daughter’s death motivated her to work to stop future shootings.
“All I want to say is that the wrong child left this world,” she said. “They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I want to be an advocate.”