NEOSHO, Mo. (ABC)– Third-graders in Missouri have sparked a firestorm by selling AR-15 raffle tickets as a baseball team fundraiser.
The fundraiser attracted backlash online in the wake of last week’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where ex-student Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 teachers and children with the same style AR-15 semi-automatic firearm.
But the baseball team’s coach is defending the AR-15 raffle fundraiser. When ABC News reached Coach Levi Patterson, he said, “This has been blown out of proportion.”
The raffle, which was launched before last week’s bloodshed, was promoted online, accompanied by the South Elementary School’s Wildcat mascot. According to The Kansas City Star, the baseball team is not affiliated with the school district.
However, South Elementary School principal Lee Woodward plugged the raffle on her own Facebook page just hours after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Principal Woodward said she was pushing for support of the “Neosho baseball players, coaches, and parents,” according to the Star.
The mascot can be used in connection with non-school functions, a school district official told ABC News. However, approval must be secured beforehand, which it wasn’t in this case, the official said.
“Community little league teams in our town have been given permission to use our logos with district approval prior to usage,” the Neosho School District said in part in a statement. “The use of our logo on the raffle flyer was not approved but we do not believe it was an action done in ill will. The team removed our logo from the flyer as soon as they were made aware of the situation.”
Woodward, the principal, is also a mother of one of the players on Patterson’s team, and says she was acting “as a concerned mother” and not as school principal by supporting the raffle, the official added.
In a statement, Woodward said: “As the mother of a community league baseball player and a school principal, I am truly sorry to any who were offended or concerned by the team’s raffle… My family is no longer participating in the fundraiser and because of death threats and other violence toward my family from across the nation, I have chosen not to comment further on this topic.”
Coach Patterson, who is not an employee of the school district, told the Star he feels he’s being attacked by the public.
He dismissed the notion that the AR-15 is a “killing machine.” In a Facebook post Wednesday he defended his decision to carry on with the baseball team’s AR-15 auction fundraiser.
“Are you all tone deaf?” wrote one person in a comment on Patterson’s page, according to the Star.
“I just think they have feelings to this specific type of gun [that are] different than people around here do,” he told the Star.
One of the players’ fathers, according to the Star, co-founded Black Rain Ordnance, the weapons manufacturer that produced and donated the rifle to the children’s team.
Coach Patterson and the Missouri team intend to continue with the AR-15 raffle campaign in spite of the national conversation and widespread grief surrounding last week’s shooting. The Neosho-based coach said of the 17 people murdered, “My heart breaks for those victims in [Florida.] I simply ask that you pray for them.”