LOUISVILLE, Ky. Paralyzed from the chest 25 years ago when freshman Michael Carneal opened fire on eight students at Heath High School in western Kentucky, Missy Jenkins Smith said she had forgiven him long ago.
She called her published memoir, “I choose to be happy.”
But when Carneal, now 39, faces the Kentucky Parole Board — which could release him later this month — she will demand that he spend the rest of his life in prison for killing three people and injuring five. at school.
She said she had forgiven him to move on with her life and that her forgiveness does not relieve him of the consequences of his actions.
Sabrina Steger, whose daughter Kayce, a 15-year-old sophomore, was murdered by Carneal, also said she will urge the board not to release him on par.
She refuses to mention his name. “I just call him ‘the killer,'” she said.
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But Hollan Holm, who was shot in the scalp by Carneal — and who suffered no permanent physical injuries but suffered emotional trauma that required counseling — said he will tell the board to free him if he can be placed somewhere he is under supervision and continues to receive treatment.
Holm, who like Carneal was a 14-year-old fellow freshman, said he can’t separate Carneal the gunman from the boy he took the bus to elementary school with every day and sat next to him in the lunchroom.
“I don’t see him as the sum of what he did on the worst day of his life,” said Holm, a lawyer with two children of his own.
One of the first school shootings
The Heath High School shooting in West Paducah was one of the first school massacres in the United States, and Carneal is one of the few perpetrators eligible for parole; most were killed in their attacks or sent to prison for life.
Carneal, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder, attempted murder and burglary, was sentenced to life in prison, but due to his age, he was entitled to parole after serving 25 years.
The probation service can release him, delay his case for years, or sentence him to life in prison.
Victims and family members must testify remotely before the probation commission on September 19, and Carneal must appear the following day.
Both conditional hearings for Carneal will be open to the public on Zoom. The Corrections Department will release the phone numbers later this week, spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said.
Carneal’s immediate release is unlikely. The probation service said on its website that “public safety” is its “main concern”. And the most recent figures show it released just 39% of inmates on par — most convicted of far less serious crimes than Carneal — the first time they saw the sign.
Carneal declined to be interviewed. His parents, who moved from Paducah to Northern Kentucky, plan to move him to their home in Cold Spring, according to a plan written for him by the Department of Public Advocacy.
“Keep in mind that he was only 14 years old at the time of the crime,” said his father, John Carneal, a lawyer who advocated the plan for his release.
When Carneal, using a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol he had stolen from a neighbor, fired into a prayer circle in the lobby of the school of 500 students, he felt hopeless about his life and suffered from hallucinations and delusions .
It wasn’t until after he was incarcerated that he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, according to his current attorney, Alana Meyer.
She said he has spent the past 25 years working with mental health professionals to find drugs that have stabilized him.
And his parents said they would take him to medical centers to continue his treatment.
“Since his crime… Michael has shown genuine remorse and accepted responsibility for the shooting,” Meyer said.
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Releasing Carneal would send the wrong message
But Missy Jenkins Smith, who is 40, made no apologies for summoning him to stay in prison for life.
She said she fears he will outlive his parents for a long time and there is no guarantee that he will be able to continue taking his medication.
“He is doing well behind bars and he should stay there,” she said. “Why mess with something that isn’t broken?”
She also said releasing him would send the wrong message to others considering school shootings.
In addition to Kayce Steger, Carneal also murdered Nicole Hadley, a 14-year-old freshman who played in the school band and freshman basketball team; and Jessica James, who was 17, and a member of the marching band.
He also injured Shelly Schaberg, who was voted Miss Heath High School by the senior class and named homecoming queen; Kelly Hard Alsip, who was a member of the softball team and the Future Homemakers of America; and Craig Keene, 15, a member of the band and play basketball with them.
Some of them and their families are expected to testify before the council.
In her memoir, published in 2008 and revised twice since, Jenkins Smith told a tale of hardship, leavened with hope.
She described the embarrassment of getting herself wet as she returned to school after months of painful rehabilitation. “I went to the office and cried,” she said.
She remembered the joy of returning to play in the marching band, but how she could only play from the sidelines in her wheelchair.
She said she didn’t date much after the shooting in high school because of the complications she faced, such as going to the bathroom. “I didn’t feel comfortable revealing these issues to guys,” she said.
But in the book, subtitled “Lessons from a School Shooting Survivor” and written with former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter William Croyle, Missy writes that at a college party in her freshman year at Murray State University, she met the love of her life, Josh Smith . They married and have two children, Logan (15) and Carter (12)
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They live near Murray, where she spent years as a counselor at a Calloway County day care center for public schools. She also learned to move around with a walker. But due to injuries to her hands and arms, which required surgery, she had to give up both.
She said she is concerned that her health is deteriorating at age 40 and that her sons already care more for her than she does.
“I’m having my pity parties,” she said. “I fear for the future.”
“But I’m still alive and I have a family,” she said. “I wouldn’t have that if I was killed that day. I am blessed.”
In her book, she said to remember that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness.
“It’s the exact opposite,” she said. “It is a sign of strength and courage. It shows maturity. And ultimately it makes you a better person – in your eyes, the eyes of those around you and the eyes of God.”
Follow Andrew Wolfson on Twitter: @adwolfson.