When members of the House Judiciary Committee convened for their first meeting of the year last week, the new Republican majority instituted a change in procedure: Before every hearing, everyone in the room would recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The honor of leading the first pledge was given to Corey Beekman, a U.S. Army National Guard combat veteran, who traveled to Capitol Hill at the invitation of his congressman, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).
“It is my pleasure and distinct honor to introduce to the committee Staff Sergeant Corey Ryan Beekman, an American hero and a constituent of mine residing in Pensacola, Florida,” Gaetz said. He praised Beekman’s 16 years of military service, his Purple Heart award, and his position on the board of a local gun club.
For Gaetz, who was seeking to spearhead the GOP’s show of patriotism and invite a fight with Democrats, Beekman was a picture-perfect symbol.
There was just one thing that Gaetz didn’t mention in his glowing introduction: Beekman is an accused murderer yet to face his day in court.
In 2019, Beekman allegedly shot and killed 33-year old Billy Buchanan inside a home in rural Mason County, Michigan, and was arrested by police after a lengthy standoff. He was later charged with murder, but his case still has not yet gone to trial, and he moved to Florida.
For Buchanan’s family, the pain of losing Billy has been compounded by the failure of his case to be resolved in court—and it was compounded even further by seeing his alleged killer appear in full military dress as an honored guest on Capitol Hill.
“It was like getting a dagger stuck in our heart again,” said Denita Buchanan, Billy’s mother.
“We were infuriated when we first saw it,” Hannah Buchanan, Billy’s niece, told The Daily Beast. “I was disgusted with the whole thing.”
After seeing Beekman leading the Pledge of Allegiance, the family swiftly reached out to Gaetz’s office—and it became clear the congressman’s office had failed to perform a basic background check on Beekman.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Gaetz apologized to the Buchanan family and said his decision to invite Beekman “caused some unintended consequences.” He acknowledged that he was unaware of the man’s history before inviting him to Congress. “The family of Billy Buchanan brought the situation to my attention, and I’m glad they did,” he said.
After hearing from the Buchanans, Gaetz’s office sent them a U.S. flag that flew over the Capitol, as well as a signed letter from Gaetz conveying his condolences and apologies for any pain he had caused. Hannah Buchanan told The Daily Beast that the family appreciated the gesture, adding that Gaetz’s chief of staff had called her directly and was very apologetic.
It appears Beekman was first connected with Gaetz when he reached out to his congressman’s office for assistance. Gaetz explained himself by arguing that when a veteran contacts his staff, “our first thoughts aren’t, ‘let’s run a background check’ or ‘I wonder if this person had any run-ins with the law that might make someone look bad.’”
Gaetz also claimed that congressional offices “don’t look like the inside of any law enforcement headquarters” and said “we don’t have access to any type of surveillance technology or databases that would rise to the level of even some of the folks you’d see in your local police department.”
“We do have a team of dedicated young professionals who don’t look for and assume the worst in our constituents, especially our veterans,” Gaetz said.
However, Gaetz’s professionals presumably have access to the Internet, where there are many articles that detail Buchanan’s killing and the lengthy legal proceedings involving Beekman.
Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole told The Daily Beast “a simple Google search, I thought,” would have given Gaetz the necessary background on Beekman.
“I do understand that our federal elected officials are probably being pulled in a lot of different directions, and a lot of them don’t get good intelligence info for a variety of different situations going on,” Cole said. “That being said, in this particular case, I was disappointed with the decision that was made.”
From the 2019 killing until now, local press have covered the case closely, and Buchanan’s family has spoken out repeatedly on television and in print media about their struggle to secure justice for Billy. A local TV outlet even based a true crime podcast series on Buchanan’s death. The drama between Gaetz and the Buchanan family has been covered in local press over the past week, including Gaetz’s apology.
In addition to apologizing, a tweet from Gaetz calling Beekman a hero—which included footage of the committee proceeding—has been deleted. A YouTube video posted by Gaetz also appears to have been deleted. The full committee meeting remains accessible on C-SPAN.
Aspects of Gaetz’s introduction of Beekman are especially egregious given his alleged murder of Buchanan.
The congressman, for one, said that Beekman had “retired” from the military in 2019. In fact, April 2019 is when Beekman allegedly shot Buchanan inside the home, as another woman, Kaitlin Buck, and two children were present with them. Surrounded by a SWAT team, Beekman came out of the home where Buchanan lay dead after an hour-and-a-half standoff, and was immediately arrested. Buck was also wounded.
According to local press reports, Beekman was jailed “immediately” after the shooting. He was released in September 2020, when the charges against him were dropped by a prosecutor “without prejudice,” meaning they could be refiled at a later date and result in a trial of Beekman.
The problem for prosecutors has been the refusal of Buck, the only adult witness to the killing, to testify. Their efforts to serve her with a subpoena for testimony have so far failed. Cole, the sheriff, said the previous county prosecutor believed he could not prove Beekman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt without her testimony. There is a new prosecutor in office, who Cole said has taken interest in advancing the case.
For some members of Buchanan’s family, the fact that Gaetz mentioned Beekman’s prominent role in a local Florida gun club was devastating—but more so that he introduced him as a hero, when in fact Billy died trying to help Buck and her two children, according to the Buchanan family.
The reason Buchanan was at the Mason County home that day in 2019 was to help Buck move. His mother, Denita, told local press in 2021 that a police officer informed her that “Billy saved their lives.”
“Billy told them, ‘You stay under the kitchen table until a police officer comes to get you,’ so the detectives said that Billy died a hero, because he saved two little children,’” Buchanan said.
In his letter to the Buchanans that arrived with an American flag, Gaetz acknowledged the story. “Billy was a hero,” he said, “and we honor him today with this flag.”
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