A Kentucky, US man who killed three students and injured five others in a school shooting 25 years ago, aged 14, is seeking parole this week.
Michael Carneal, now 39, was a 14-year-old freshman in 1997 when he fired a stolen pistol at a prayer group before school in the hall of Heath High School, near Paducah, in Kentucky. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years, the maximum allowed at the time for a person his age.
A parole hearing was held on Monday, September 19, and included testimony from victims and surviving witnesses.
Carneal, who would be the first school shooter eligible for parole in Kentucky, could eventually become the first school shooter in the nation to be granted parole.
In one of the few interviews he’s given since the shooting, he told the Kentucky Courier-Journal in 2002, “I perceived my life as miserable. Nobody loved me and nobody cared.”
Carneal then said he was sorry for what he had done and acknowledged he was only thinking about himself at the time, not the people he would hurt and kill.
He said there was no simple answer as to why he went after it, but he suffered from delusions and paranoia at the time. He said the therapy and medication he received in prison stabilized his mental health. “It sounds weird to say, but I’m not really a violent person,” he added.
On Tuesday, September 20, Carneal will plead for his release from the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange. If the board rules against him, they can decide how long Carneal has to wait before his next chance to apply for parole.
Those killed by Carneal were Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15. Among the injured are Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. She met Carneal in prison in 2007 and had a long conversation with him. He apologized to her and she said she forgave him.
“A lot of people think it absolves him of the consequences, but I don’t think so,” she said, adding that she opposed his release from prison. She worries that he is not equipped to handle life outside of prison and that he could still harm others. She also doesn’t think it would be right for him to be free while the people he hurt are still suffering.
Attorney Daniel Boaz, the lead prosecutor for the area that includes Paducah, wrote a letter to the Kentucky Parole Board on Sept. 9 opposing Carneal’s release.
“I experienced and witnessed the immediate effects of Michael Carneal’s actions on December 1, 1997, and have been processing the effects of his actions since then,” Boaz wrote.
The families of the children who were killed suffered a “loss too vast to be expressed in words”, he wrote. While Carneal’s incarceration for the rest of his life “may seem like a severe sentence, it is a pittance compared to what these families are suffering.”