Michael Carneal has served nearly 25 years in prison for the Dec. 1, 1997, shooting at Heath High School in Paducah, killing three students and injuring five others, after saying “Amen” to a student prayer circle in the lobby.
Carneal has been charged with three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree robbery. While he was sentenced to life in prison, Kentucky law requires juveniles to be eligible for parole after 25 years.
Now 39, Carneal pleaded his case to parole board members last week, saying that if he is released, he plans to live with his parents, continue receiving mental health treatment and eventually get a job.
His public defender, Alana Meyer, asked the commission to remember that Carneal was a teenager when he opened fire, suffering from undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia and struggling with bullying and the transition from middle school to high school.
For a quarter of a century, Carneal has “committed to his mental health treatment, participation in available educational and vocational programs, and being a helpful and positive person inside the prison,” Meyer wrote.
The school shooter says he still hears voices
The attorney said Carneal has “shown deep and genuine remorse and taken responsibility for the shooting” and is dedicated to bettering himself.
Carneal told the panel last week that he had received multiple mental health diagnoses and had been hearing voices in his head for a long time, including on the day of the shooting.
He said that before he opened fire he heard a voice telling him to “get the gun out of my backpack and hold it in front of me and shoot.”
“There is no justification or excuse for what I did,” Carneal said. “I am offering an explanation. I realize there is no excuse for what I have done.”
Carneal said he still hears voices in his head, but now knows when to ignore them.
During the initial hearing, parole board members Larry Brock and Ladeidra Jones questioned Carneal about the shooting.
“I was 14 at the time and I didn’t really experience anything in life. I didn’t know exactly the impact of what I was going to do in the end. I didn’t know what that really meant. I didn’t know the pain and the pain it was going to cause people,” Carneal told them.
“Did you know that if you walk into a school and shoot a bunch of people with a gun and kill them, that’s wrong?” Jones asked. “Yes,” replied Carneal.
Survivors and families push back against Carneal’s demand for release
15-year-old Missy Jenkins Smith was on her way to class when she saw 14-year-old Nicole Hadley shot in the head and fall to the ground.
Too young to hear the gunshots and thinking it must be a prank, Jenkins Smith stood in front of the girl, waiting for her to get up, when a bullet pierced her chest and she too fell to the ground.
There, he began to feel a loss of feeling in his stomach, and then his legs, as chaos spread around him.
Jenkins Smith survived the gunshots, but was paralyzed from the chest down.
From his wheelchair, Jenkins Smith addressed the parole board last week, sharing how he struggles without the use of his legs and expressing his opposition to Carneal’s release from custody.
“He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Also, on December 1, 1997, Michael sentenced me to live in a wheelchair without the possibility of parole,” said Missy Jenkins Smith.
Nicole Hadley’s parents and siblings also spoke of their loss, and their fears of the impact it would have on them if Carneal were granted parole.
“If the shooter is released, what happens when he doesn’t take his medicine? Who will he hurt or kill next? Communities and families don’t deserve to be made even harder: to live in fear.” Gwen Hadley cried.
Nicole’s sister, Christina Hadley Ellegood, was at the school the day of the shooting and found her sister lying on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head.
“Nicole was given a life sentence. Michael (asked for) a life sentence,” he told the board. “I think she should spend the rest of her life in prison. Nicole doesn’t have a second chance. Why should she?”
The shooting stunned a nation unfamiliar with such violence and left a lasting mark on Paducah. All the people who spoke at last week’s virtual victim hearing called for Carneale to be denied parole.
Hollan Holm, who shot Carneali in the head, told the commission that he understood why people wanted to keep him in prison, but he would vote to give Carneali another chance.
Holm recalled lying on the floor of Heath High, bleeding from the head, praying and ready to die at the age of 14. He was shot by the boy who was riding the bus and had lunch with him.
Although Holm still lives with the mental and emotional scars of that day, she said that when she thinks of Carneal, she thinks of her 10-year-old daughter and can’t imagine holding her at the same level she would have. an adult
“If mental health experts think he can succeed outside, he should get that chance,” Holm said, adding that he understands the anger people are feeling. “I feel that anger, too, but when I feel that anger, I think about the 14-year-old boy who acted that day and I think about my children, and I think the man that boy became should have a chance to try and be better.”
Meanwhile, Jenkins Smith, now 40 and a mother herself, told CNN she believed a teenager should know the consequences of pulling a trigger.
“I have a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old and they both know that if they point a gun at someone and pull the trigger, it can be a life-or-death situation and there are consequences,” he said. “So I don’t want it to send the wrong message to other people who think that maybe they can do it and get away with it at 39.”
Jenkins Smith said the damage from the shooting went beyond what happened to him and the others who were shot, and beyond the guards who had to clean up the students’ blood from the floor, or the doctors and nurses who had to try to save them. dying children
“There were a lot of people who felt their innocence had been taken away. There was a lot of concern about ‘is this going to happen at my school?’ A lot of people were affected,” Jenkins Smith said.