Paducah, KY school shooter will face another parole hearing

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Heath High School shooting suspect Michael 
Carneal is escorted out of the McCracken County Courthouse after his arraignment in Paducah, Ky., Thursday, Jan. 15, 1998. 
Carneal opened fire inside a Kentucky high school, killing three classmates and wounding five others Dec. 1, 1997. (AP Photo/Courier Journal, Sam Upshaw Jr.) 
PHOTOGRAPHER: SAM UPSHAW JR

Heath High School shooting suspect Michael
Carneal is escorted out of the McCracken County Courthouse after his arraignment in Paducah, Ky., Thursday, Jan. 15, 1998.
Carneal opened fire inside a Kentucky high school, killing three classmates and wounding five others Dec. 1, 1997. (AP Photo/Courier Journal, Sam Upshaw Jr.)
PHOTOGRAPHER: SAM UPSHAW JR

ALL

A parole decision for 39-year-old Michael Carneal, who shot and killed three girls and injured five others in a 1997 school shooting at Heath High School, has been postponed until Monday.

This decision came Tuesday morning from state Parole Board Chair Ladeidra Jones and parole board member Larry Brock, following an eligibility hearing with Carneal.

Carneal, who opened fire in the lobby of the high school in McCracken County December 1997, pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, and one count of first-degree burglary nearly 25 years ago. He was sentenced to life in prison with an opportunity for parole after 25 years, according to court records. He’ll reach 25 years of incarceration this December.

Jones and Brock were unable to make a unanimous decision on Carneal’s parole after a two-day hearing process that included testimony from victims, victims’ families and Carneal himself. James and Brock have referred his case to the full parole board, which will meet Monday morning.

Carneal, speaking to Jones and Brock during his parole hearing Tuesday, said he heard voices at the time of the shooting that told him to act out violently. He said he still hears these voices today.

“(The voices told me) to pick up the gun out of a backpack, point it in front of me and shoot,” he said on Tuesday. “There is no justification or excuse for what I did.”

Carneal told Jones and Brock he still has violent voices in his head, which told him to jump off the stairs as recently as two days ago. Despite this, he said he keeps up with his mental health through multiple counselors, which he feels helps him differentiate between what is real and avoid committing acts of violence against himself.

‘I don’t remember firing the gun or how many times I fired’

During his hearing, Jones and Brock had a chance to ask Carneal questions about his mental health, discuss the shooting, his criminal history, the programs he completed in prison and future plans he had if he were granted release.

Carneal said he stole guns and ammunition from a neighbor’s home days before the shooting. He also took guns from his father.

When he arrived at the school on Dec. 1, 1997, Carneal said he had one gun in his backpack and others wrapped in a blanket. He told those who asked that the items concealed in the blanket were for “an English project,” which they accepted as an answer.

“I got to the lobby and set them down, and stood around for a while and stood there and then went and got the gun out of the backpack and held it in front of me,” he said. “I don’t remember firing the gun or how many times I fired. The next thing I remember is people laying on the ground.”

Killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James and 15-year-old Kayce Steger. Among those injured was Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed after she was shot by Carneal and uses a wheelchair. Other victims were Shelley Schaberg, Kelly Hard Alsip, Hollan Holm, and Craig Keene.

The parole board heard victim impact statements on Monday from several involved in the shooting including Holm, Jenkins Smith and the family of Hadley.

Carneal acknowledged Tuesday who his victims were, explained how he knew them, and said some of them had been his friends.

He said of Kayce Steger, “She was one of my victims. We were in a band together,” he said. “She offered me a seat next to her on the bus one time – I’ll never forget it. No one would let me sit next to them, and she said ‘You can sit here,’ and I will never forget that.”

Despite this, he said there were no intended targets and that he knew there were “people just standing there.” He “didn’t know who it was,” he said.

He said in the days leading up to the shooting, he had thoughts of standing in an empty school or an empty mall and shooting, just wanting people to “run around.”

“(The shooting) was not justified at all,” Carneal said. “There was no excuse for it at all and the reason it happened was just like a combination of factors in my life and when I look at it now, it was because I was a coward.”

During his 24 years of incarceration, Carneal has completed anger management classes, graduated from the correctional psychiatric unit, received his GED and completed some college courses. He has received continuous mental health counseling, and doctors still consider his prognosis as “poor,” and said he still has visions of violent imagery, according to comments from Jones.

Does Kentucky school shooter think he deserves parole?

Carneal said that if he was released, he’d continue his mental health regimen, which he felt could help him be a productive member of society. He also said he had plans to live with his parents for several years and work to earn a living with any job he could get.

Carneal said his age, his under-developed maturity and his mental health at the time caused him to commit the shooting.

“I was 14 at the time, and I had not experienced life and didn’t know exactly the effects of what I would do eventually,” Carneal said. “I didn’t know what that would actually mean. I didn’t know the hurt and pain it would cause people, I was ignorant to that.”

However, he did tell Jones and Brock he knew what he did was wrong.

When asked if he felt he deserved parole, Carneal said he did not know.

“It depends on when you ask me,” he said. “Sometimes I think I deserved to be killed. I think that honestly. And other times I think that due to the fact that I could do some good for a lot of people, maybe, it would be beneficial if I were released some day.”

He said he knew people on the outside thought of him as “a monster.”

“I believe that is what people think of me,” Carneal said. “I don’t blame them for that, I understand that. I understand why people would think that.

“… I am sorry for what I did. It is not going to change what happened, and it is not going to make anything better, but I am sorry for what I did,” he said.

Taylor Six is the criminal justice reporter at the Herald-Leader. She was born and raised in Lexington attending Lafayette High School. She graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 2018 with a degree in journalism. She previously worked as the government reporter for the Richmond Register.





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