Kentucky school shooter who killed three classmates in 1997 says he STILL hears the ‘demonic’ voices

Kentucky school shooter who killed three classmates in 1997 when he was 14 says he STILL hears the ‘demonic’ voices that drove him to the massacre as he appears before parole hearing

  • Michael Carneal, 39, told the Kentucky Parole Board that voices recently told him to throw himself down a flight of stairs
  • The Heath High School shooter, who killed three schoolmates in 1997, said that he feels responsible for Columbine two years later
  • Carneal’s inmate file lists his mental health as ‘poor,’ according to Parole Board chair Ladeidra Jones
  •  The two-person panel failed to come to a unanimous conclusion and the full board will vote next week
  • Missy Jenkins Smith, who is paralyzed and wheelchair-bound because of Carneal, said he should not be free 

A Kentucky man who killed three students and wounded five more in a school shooting 25 years ago said he still hears voices like the ones that told him to steal a pistol and shoot into a crowded high school lobby in 1997.

Michael Carneal, 39, who appeared before a Kentucky Parole Board panel on Monday in a bid to get out of prison early said that the same voices told him as recently as ‘a couple of days ago’ to harm himself by jumping a flight of stairs.

‘I know now that it’s not something that I should do,’ he told a two-person panel during the public hearing. 

Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman on Dec. 1, 1997, when he fired the stolen pistol at a before-school prayer group in the lobby of Heath High School, near Paducah, Kentucky.

Michael Carneal, 39, seeks parole despite the fact that he still hears the voices that drove him to kill three classmates and wound five others

Michael Carneal, 39, seeks parole despite the fact that he still hears the voices that drove him to kill three classmates and wound five others

A Heath High School student screams at seeing the scene of a shooting at the school where fellow student Michael Carneal opened fire, leaving three students dead and five wounded on Dec. 1, 1997, near Paducah, Kentucky

A Heath High School student screams at seeing the scene of a shooting at the school where fellow student Michael Carneal opened fire, leaving three students dead and five wounded on Dec. 1, 1997, near Paducah, Kentucky 

Missy Jenkins Smith, who was shot by Carneal, is paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. She said Carneal should not be free

Missy Jenkins Smith, who was shot by Carneal, is paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. She said Carneal should not be free

‘I believe there is a real demonic force that would drive someone to do this,’ a minister, and the father of Benjamin Strong, who lead the pray group that was attacked, told The New York Times.

School shootings were not yet a disturbing part of the national consciousness in 1997 — two years before Columbine — and Carneal was given the maximum sentence possible at the time for someone his age, life in prison with the possibility of parole. 

A quarter century later, in the shadow of Uvalde and in a nation disgusted by the carnage of mass shootings, Carneal, now 39, tried to convince the parole panel he deserves to be freed.

He told the board that he feels responsible for subsequent school shootings, especially the 1999 mass murder at Columbine High School by two students who killed 15 schoolmates.

Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed by Carneal in the Heath High School shooting said that he was still a danger to society

Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed by Carneal in the Heath High School shooting said that he was still a danger to society

Kelly Hard Alsip, left, and Missy Jenkins Smith, far right, who were both wounded in the shooting don't buy Michael Carneal's apology

Kelly Hard Alsip, left, and Missy Jenkins Smith, far right, who were both wounded in the shooting don’t buy Michael Carneal’s apology

‘I really feel responsible. That’s when I became suicidal and I attempted to hurt myself and I had to be sent to a hospital,’ Carneal said.

Parole Board Chair Ladeidra Jones told Carneal after his testimony that the two members had not reached a unanimous decision and were referring his case to the full board, which meets on Monday. 

Only the full board has the power to order Carneal to serve out his sentence without another chance at parole.

Speaking on a videoconference from the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange, Carneal told the panel that at the time of the shooting, ‘I was hearing in my head to do certain things, but I should have known that stealing guns … was going to lead to something terrible.’ 

He said he has been receiving therapy and taking psychiatric medications in prison but admitted that he still hears voices. As recently as a couple of days ago, he heard voices telling him to jump off the stairs.

Jones told Carneal that his inmate file lists his mental health prognosis as ‘poor’ and says that even with mental health services, he is still experiencing paranoid thoughts with violent imagery.

Asked how the board could be assured that he would not act on those thoughts, Carneal said he has learned to ignore them and hasn’t acted on them for many years. He said there are days that he believes he deserves to die for what he did, but other days he thinks he can still do some good in the world.

‘It doesn’t have to be something grand,’ he said. ‘Every little thing you do affects somebody. It could be listening to someone, carrying something. I would like to do something in the future that could contribute to society.’

Carneal attributed the shooting to a combination of factors that included his mental health and immaturity, but added that it was ‘not justified at all. There’s no excuse for it at all.’

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

Carneal said he knew all of his victims.

‘Nicole was a very good friend,’ he said. ‘Some of them I knew more than others, but it was a small school and a lot of these people were in band with me. I’d went to several of them’s birthday parties. … None of them do I have any negative memories of them.’

He ended with an apology.

Michael Carneal, 39, who was only 14 at the time, was serving a life sentence, but was granted an opportunity for parole at 25 years, the maximum sentence permitted for someone his age, Fox News reported

Michael Carneal, 39, who was only 14 at the time, was serving a life sentence, but was granted an opportunity for parole at 25 years, the maximum sentence permitted for someone his age, Fox News reported

‘I would like to say to you and the victims and their friends and families and the whole community that I’m sorry for what I did. I know it’s not going to change things or make anything better, but I am sorry for what I did.’

Watching from her home in Kirksey was Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed by one of Carneal’s bullets and now uses a wheelchair. 

Her friend Kelly Hard Alsip, also wounded that day, and their children and other relatives were crowded onto a large sofa to watch the hearing. They scoffed as they heard Carneal say he had not targeted the prayer group but simply shot at random. 

They also reacted with disbelief when he said he had heard voices just two days ago.

After the hearing, Jenkins Smith said she doesn’t like having to wait another week to find out what will happen, but ‘at least he’s not being released.’

She had testified to the parole board panel on Monday that she believes there are too many ‘what ifs’ with Carneal. Such as, what if he stops taking his medication, or his medication stops working?

‘Continuing his life in prison is the only way his victims can feel comfortable and safe,’ she said.

She also said it would be unfair to the girls he killed and their loved ones for Carneal to be released.

After gunning down three of his peers, Nicole Hadley, 17, Jessica James, 17 and Kayce Steger, 15,  Carneal, submitted his weapon and the principal walked him to the school office. Carneal, who was 14 at the time  (pictured) is seen being escorted by officials after his arraignment at the McCracken County Courthouse on January 15, 1998

After gunning down three of his peers, Nicole Hadley, 17, Jessica James, 17 and Kayce Steger, 15,  Carneal, submitted his weapon and the principal walked him to the school office. Carneal, who was 14 at the time  (pictured) is seen being escorted by officials after his arraignment at the McCracken County Courthouse on January 15, 1998

Michael Carneal (pictured right)  appears with his attorney, Charles Granner, at Carneal's arraignment January 15, 1998 in the McCracken County Circuit Court in Paducah, Kentucky

Michael Carneal (pictured right)  appears with his attorney, Charles Granner, at Carneal’s arraignment January 15, 1998 in the McCracken County Circuit Court in Paducah, Kentucky

Students arriving at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., embrace an unidentified adult on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1997, after student Michael Carneal opened fire at the school the day before, leaving three students dead and five wounded

Students arriving at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., embrace an unidentified adult on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1997, after student Michael Carneal opened fire at the school the day before, leaving three students dead and five wounded 

‘They will forever be a 17-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 15-year-old — allowed only one full decade of life. A consequence of Michael’s choice,’ she said.

Also testifying at the beginning of the week was Christina Hadley Ellegood, whose younger sister Nicole was killed in the shooting.

Ellegood has written about the pain of seeing her sister’s body and having to call their mom and tell her Nicole had been shot.

‘I had no one to turn to who understood what I was going through,’ she said. ‘For me, it’s not fair for him to be able to roam around with freedom when we live in fear of where he might be.’

The two-person panel of the full parole board only has the option to release him or defer his next opportunity for parole for up to five years. They could not agree on those options and sent the case to a meeting of the full board next Monday.

Hollan Holm, who was wounded that day, spoke earlier in the week about lying on the floor of the high school lobby, bleeding from his head and believing he was going to die. But he said Carneal was too young to comprehend the full consequences of his actions and should have a chance at supervised release.

‘When I think of Michael Carneal, I think of the child I rode the bus with every day,’ he said. ‘I think of the child I shared a lunch table with in third grade. I think of what he could have become if, on that day, he had it somewhere in him to make a different choice or take a different path.’

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