The Heath High School shooting occurred at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, United States, on Monday December 1, 1997. Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on a group of praying students killing 3 girls and wounding 5 others.
- Nicole Hadley was a fourteen-year-old freshman. Nicole was kept alive until 10:00pm the evening of the shooting. Nicole played in the school band and on the freshman basketball team. She was a member of the Heartland Baptist Worship Center and the Heartland Baptist Youth Group. Her family had moved to Paducah from Nebraska the year before the shooting. Her parents received praise for their decision to donate Nicole's organs, a decision they said their daughter supported. President Clinton cited the family's "courageous decision" in his Proclamation 7083 on National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week in 1998.
- Jessica James was a seventeen-year-old senior. Jessica died in surgery at Western Baptist Hospital Monday afternoon.
- Kayce Steger was a fifteen-year-old sophomore. Kayce died at Lourdes Hospital in Paducah about 45 minutes after the shooting. Kayce played clarinet in the school band, played on the softball team, and was a member of the Agape Club. She was an honor student, worked at Subway, and attended 12th Street Baptist Church. She was a member of Law Enforcement Explorers Post 111 and hoped to be a police officer. Her parents reported that Michael Carneal had asked her out on a date a little over a month before the shooting.
- Shelley Schaberg, 17 at the time, was described by the principal as the school’s best female athlete. Voted Miss Heath High School by the senior class, Shelley was homecoming queen. Though her injuries from the shooting prevented her from playing basketball, her college honored her basketball scholarship and she went on to play college soccer.
- Melissa “Missy” Jenkins, age 15 at the time, was president of the Future Homemakers of America. She was paralyzed from the chest down in the shooting. Missy has appeared on numerous national and local television shows, talked to newspaper reporters and is appearing in two TV commercials for Channel One, an educational channel that reaches schools throughout the country. A video interview of her was featured on the home page of YouTube.com on April 22, 2007. Melissa Jenkins video interview
- Kelly Hard, 16 at the time, was a member of the softball team and the Future Homemakers of America. She transferred to the local Catholic school the year after the shooting.
- Hollan Holm, age 14 at the time, was a member of the Academic Team, the Spanish Club, and the Science Olympiad. In his valedictory speech at the class of 2001 graduation, he reminded his class that they had lost not one but two members on December 1, 1997,: Nicole Hadley and Michael Carneal. Holm has been involved with an organization that urges students to speak up if they know of threats against schools or students.
- Craig Keene, age 15 at the time, was a member of the Agape Club, the band, and the basketball team.
Because of his small frame, Carneal was frequently bullied. He would bring items to school and sell them in an attempt to make friends. Carneal's name was published in a middle school paper gossip column
claiming that he had feelings for another male student. This led to name-calling, with students using names that referenced his supposed homosexuality..
Carneal was a B-student at Heath High School. He was also said to be a good student with no discipline problems.
Weeks before the incident, Carneal stole a .38 handgun from his parents' room and attempted to sell it. A student took the gun, threatening to tell police if Carnael didn't give it to him. The student promised to pay Carneal later, but never did.
Additionally, Carneal had told students that "something big is going to happen on Monday" but no-one took him seriously.
In the weeks before the shooting, Carneal stole several firearms from both his own home and a friend's home.
On the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day Carneal went to a friend's home and broke into the garage, taking:
Later, he also stole:
- A Ruger .22 pistol
- Several .22 magazines
Presumably sometime after Thanksgiving Day, Carneal stole two shotguns from his father's closet and hid them under his bed.
December 1, 1997: Shooting at Heath High School
On the 1st of December, Carneal wrapped two shotguns and two rifles in a blanket and took them to school, passing them off as an art project he was working on. He also carried the loaded .22 pistol in his backpack. Carneal rode to school with his sister and arrived at approximately 7:45AM. When he arrived he inserted earplugs
and pulled the pistol out of his bag. He fired 8 rounds in quick succession at a youth prayer group. Five people were hit in their heads and another three were hit in their torsos. Three seriously injured girls died while hospitalized; five others were wounded, two critically.
Carneal dropped the gun after being confronted by a member of the prayer group, Benjamin Strong, but Strong eventually testified that Carneal simply dropped the gun of his own accord when he was finished. Carneal placed his pistol on the ground and surrendered to the school principal, Bill Bond. After dropping the gun Carneal said to Strong, "Kill me, please. I can't believe I did that."
Carneal was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences for 3 counts of murder and an additional 120 years for 5 counts of attempted murder and burglary
In October 1998, Judge Jeff Hines accepted a plea of guilty but mentally ill from Michael Carneal.
Under a plea arrangement, the judge agreed to accept the pleas on condition that the maximum penalty -- life in prison without possibility of parole for 25 years -- would be imposed. The plea allows Carneal to receive mental health treatment within the prison system as long as he needs it or until his sentence has been completed, according to prosecutor Tim Kaltenbach. Carneal was transported to Northern Kentucky Treatment Center, a maximum security facility for serious offenders where fellow inmate George Mullins assaulted Carneal in 2004, inflicting a major skull fracture and concussion. After the incident Carneal was transported to the Kentucky State Reformatory
in La Grange
where he remains.
In early 1999, the parents of three victims represented by Jack Thompson
filed a $33 million lawsuit
against two Internet pornography
sites, several computer game companies and makers and distributors of the 1995 film The Basketball Diaries
. They claimed that media violence inspired Carneal and therefore should be held responsible.
The case was dismissed in 2001. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was "simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen to shooting people in a classroom.
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