Michael Carneal: Paralyzed school shooting victim lashes out at parole for indecision over gunman’s release

A victim who has been paralyzed for more than half her life after a fellow student shot her in a school massacre in 1997, authorities have criticized for not immediately refusing him parole after hearings this week.

Michael Carneal, 39, spoke to two members of the Kentucky State Parole Board on Tuesday. He is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting three Heath High School classmates in West Paducah, Kentucky and injuring five others when he was 14.

Missy Jenkins Smith, 40, was one of the injured. Sitting in her wheelchair, a day before Carneal’s own performance, she gave emotional testimony to victims via video for the board members. He told the board that he was on three psychiatric drugs but still hears voices and does not pay attention to his specific diagnoses.

Looking at his testimony, Ms. Jenkins Smith was unconvinced by his plea and shared in a Facebook post on Tuesday that she didn’t “thought Michael was fine today.”

“I was surprised that the board could not come to a unanimous decision, but I am confident that the full board will do the right thing next week. I have not seen any evidence that he is better today, 25 years later, or that he has put a lot of effort into preparing for this hearing, and I think the council has seen that,” she wrote. “I think he’s functioning and safe in prison, and so are we here. Let’s keep it that way.”

Michael Carneal, now 39, was just 14 when he killed three and injured five at Heath High School; he will be released this month

(Kentucky Corrections Department)

Ladeidra N. Jones, chairman of the board, pointed out during Carneal’s testimony that probation authorities had received letters from his legal counsel and family, but nothing from the inmate himself. When asked why on Tuesday, he said he thought everything had been covered in the information sent by others.

Ms Jones pointed out that his mental health prognosis remained “poor” after decades of treatment and that he continued to experience “paranoid thoughts with violent visual images.”

Carneal admitted this, telling the board that while he still hears voices, he has learned to control his actions and seek help. He seemed nervous and jittery during the hour-long interview with Mrs. Jones and her fellow board member Larry Brock.

Ms. Jones and fellow board member Larry Brock heard Carneal’s testimony, but were unable to reach a unanimous decision on parole. The case will be heard by the full probation service on Monday.

Despite being in a wheelchair, Missy married her husband Josh, had two boys, wrote books and gave speeches

(Missy Jenkins Smith)

Carneal told the board on Tuesday that he knew right about wrong at age 14, but blamed the massacre on a “combination of factors.”

“I heard things and I was extremely suspicious,” he told the board. “And I’d felt alienated and different for years, and I think when I started developing mental health problems, that contributed to that — and it made my mental health problems worse, that I spent those years feeling that way.”

He told the board: “I was 14 at the time and I hadn’t really experienced anything in life. I wasn’t sure exactly what the effect would be of what I would do.”

Carneal shot and killed Nicole Hadley, 14; Jessica James, 17; and Kayce Steger, 15. Ms. Jenkins Smith, one of the five injured, had considered Carneal a friend and knew him fairly well, although she told the board that he should remain in prison.

“I want you to consider how long it’s been since others took care of him,” Missy, now a married mother of two, told the board. “From the age of 14 to his current age of 39, he has not had the responsibility of looking after himself and has been looked after for the past 25 years.

“How can anyone say with confidence that he could do that for the rest of his life?” she asked, before adding, “There are too many ‘what ifs’ – to assume that he would be responsible enough to take care of himself and not let his mental illness cause him harm again? Continuing his prison life is the only way his victims can feel comfortable and safe without being harassed.”

Missy Jenkins Smith, pictured with her sons, says she’s worried Carneal won’t be able to adjust to life outside of prison and may need to stop taking his meds

(Missy Jenkins Smith)

Also on Tuesday, Carneal told the board that his sister and parents, who he would initially live with after an eventual release, were supportive and promised to take him to any doctor’s appointments. He said he was on three mental health drugs and would continue care on the outside if he was released.

“I think I can do a lot of good there,” Carneal said, adding that he’d be content with a job in fast food or sanitation or whatever. “I think I would fit into the community. I think I can benefit people as a whole.”

Hollan Holm was 14 when Carneal shot him in the head, but pleads for his attacker’s release


One of his victims, Hollan Holm, who was shot in the head by Carneal and still bears the scar on his hairline, pleaded for the release of his attacker on Monday.

“I was a kid,” said Holm, who was 14 at the time of the shooting and will turn 40 in December. “Everyone in the Heath High School lobby that day, including Michael Carneal, was a kid. It took me 25 years to fully realize how little I knew in that day – how much of life I hadn’t lived and how far from mature I was in my thinking and my capacity.”

Carneal went on to say he felt responsible for the plague of mass shootings that followed his actions. While not the first school shooter, Columbine followed soon after — in 1999 — and enshrined the crimes as a national horror. Carneal said he became suicidal and was hospitalized when he heard the news.

Gwen and Chuck Hadley’s teenage daughter, Nicole, was killed in the December 1997 shooting at a school in West Paducah, Kentucky


The family of Nicole Hadley, who was fatally shot by Carneal, protested his release on Monday.

“Not only did he kill Nicole, but he also killed Kayce and Jessice and tried to kill five more students,” Chuck Hadley told the probation officers. “I believe the killer should never be released from prison and serve the rest of his life sentence.”

Gwen Hadley added that she “will not see Nicole achieve her goals, get married, have children and become an aunt.”

“We as a family miss her at all family events. Nicole will always be missed,” she said.