Gunman up for parole 25 years after deadly Kentucky school shooting

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Michael Carneal was 14 years old when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997 and he is now up for parole.

Carneal killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, in December 1997 during a before-school prayer meeting. The shooting ended when Carneal put down his weapon and the principal walked him to the school office.

Now, he is up for parole because his life sentence guaranteed an opportunity for parole after 25 years, the maximum sentence permissible at the time for someone his age.

Carneal, now, 39, will have a parole hearing this week.

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Michael Carneal was 14-years-old when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997, and he is now up for parole.

Michael Carneal was 14-years-old when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997, and he is now up for parole.

One of the victims, Missy Jenkins Smith, has kept track of how much time Carneal has before he is eligible for parole.

“Twenty-five years seemed like so long, so far away,” she remembers thinking at the time of his sentencing.

Jenkins Smith was 15 when Carneal, who she considered a friend, shot her. She was left paralyzed and uses a wheelchair to get around.

“I would think, ‘It’s been 10 years. How many more years?’ At the 20-year anniversary memorial, I thought, ‘It’s coming up.'” she said.

She does not believe Carneal should be free. She is concerned he will be unable to handle life outside of prison and could still harm others, and she does not think it is right for him to have a normal life after what he did.

“For him to have a chance at 39. People get married at 39. They have children,” Jenkins Smith said. “It’s not right for him to possibly have a normal life that those three girls he killed will never have.”

The students killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James, and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

Carneal had killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, in December 1997 during a before-school prayer meeting.

Carneal had killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, in December 1997 during a before-school prayer meeting.

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Jenkins Smith visited Carneal in prison in 2007, and he apologized to her. She said she forgave him but that he should still pay for his actions.

“A lot of people think that exonerates him from consequences, but I don’t think so,” she said.

Carneal’s parole hearing is scheduled to begin Monday with testimony from the people injured in the shooting and close relatives of those who were killed. Jenkins Smith said she knows of just one victim who believes Carneal should be granted some form of supervised release, which would be less confining than prison but not unrestricted freedom. 

The students killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James, and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

The students killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James, and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

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The Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange will hear Carneal make his case.

The parole hearing will be conducted virtually over a video call. Jenkins Smith said she will position her camera, so her full body can be seen to show the parole board her wheelchair. 

She said it will be “a reminder that everyone who experienced that impact 25 years ago is still dealing with it, for the rest of their lives.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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