NATIONAL NEWS

Kentucky school shooter imprisoned 25 years seeks parole

Sep 19, 2022, 5:27 PM
FILE - Michael Carneal, 27, is escorted by a guard from the U.S. District Courthouse in Paducah, Ky...
FILE - Michael Carneal, 27, is escorted by a guard from the U.S. District Courthouse in Paducah, Ky., March 18, 2011. Carneal pleaded guilty in 1998 to killing three students and injuring five others in 1997 at Heath High School, when he was 14. In the quarter century that has passed, school shootings have become a depressingly regular occurrence in the U.S. Carneal's parole hearing in September 2022 raises questions about the appropriate punishment for children who commit heinous crimes. Even if they can be rehabilitated, many wonder if it is fair to the victims for them to be released. (Stephen Lance Dennee/The Paducah Sun via AP, File)
(Stephen Lance Dennee/The Paducah Sun via AP, File)

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky man who killed three students and injured five more in a school shooting a quarter century ago has a chance at parole this week.

Michael Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman in 1997 when he fired a stolen pistol at a before-school prayer group in the lobby of Heath High School, near Paducah, Kentucky. He received a life sentence with the opportunity for parole after 25 years, the maximum allowed at the time for someone his age.

The hearing that began on Monday is his first opportunity for parole and could also be his last. The parole board has discretion to release him, to defer the decision, or order him to spend the rest of his life in prison without further hope of release.

Monday was dedicated to testimony from the injured and the close relatives of those who were killed in a shooting that still reverberates in this small community, where everyone seems to have a connection to the tragedy and several of the victims considered Carneal, now 39, a friend.

Gwen Hadley, mother of Nicole Hadley, who was 14 when she was murdered on Dec. 1, 1997, expressed a sentiment that was often repeated on Monday, referring to Carneal only as “the shooter.”

“We — the families, the survivors, and people that were at the school, and the whole community — were given a life sentence by the shooter and didn’t have the opportunity to get a second chance, a reduced sentence,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “The life sentence the shooter has given us — I have made the choice not to be angry and to find joy in life. But I still really miss my daughter. And I don’t like that I don’t get to see her.”

Nicole’s sister, Christina Hadley Ellegood, just a year older than Nicole, was in school at the time of the shooting and found her sister in the lobby with a bullet hole in her head. She does not believe Carneal shot at random that day, she said. Nicole was the first person killed and she had recently turned Carneal down for a date.

“Michael was not a kid who did not have friends, as he’s led people to believe,” she said. “Nicole did not agree with how Michael treated people and the things that he did, but because she was so kindhearted, she was friends with him.”

Although Ellegood acknowledged that a child of 14 years old doesn’t have a fully developed brain and may not fully understand the consequences of his actions, she said, “I believe that Michael knew what he was doing the day of the shooting. …He fired eight shots and hit eight different people, which in my eyes is a very difficult task.”

Also killed that day were 17-year-old Jessica James and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

Hollan Holm, who was wounded that day, recalled lying on the floor of the high school lobby, bleeding from his head and believing he was going to die. “Almost 25 years later, I still have trouble being in crowds of people,” he said. “I get agitated and scan for sources of danger and exit routes. I get anxious when I am seated in a restaurant with my back to the door.”

But Holm also remembers Carneal as a kid he rode the bus with every day and who he ate lunch with every day in third grade. Now that he is 40, he realizes just how immature they all were at 14, Holm said.

“I have to think that after 25 years, he’s a different person than he was that day, as we are all different people today than we were 25 years ago,” Holm said, adding that he would support supervised release if mental health experts think Carneal can be successful outside of prison.

Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed by one of Carneal’s bullets and uses a wheelchair, said it is too risky to let Carneal out. He has said he was suffering from delusions and paranoia at the time of the shooting, and she worries what would happen if he stopped taking his medications.

Jenkins Smith was in the band with Carneal and had considered him a friend. She even visited him in prison once. She has said she has forgiven him, but she does not think it would be fair for him to be set free.

“I could speak for hours about what my life has been like every minute of every day the last quarter century, without the use of my legs,” she said. “I’ve been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole — after living the consequence of Michael Carneal’s decision — to not be able to walk. I will continue to serve out that consequence. Michael’s decision for me will be my entire life.”

On Tuesday, Carneal will make his case for release from the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange. A two-person panel of the full parole board is hearing Carneal’s appeal. They have the option to release him or defer his next opportunity for parole for up to five years. If the two cannot agree on those options, they can send the case to a meeting of the full board next Monday. Only the full board has the power to deny Carneal any chance of parole, forcing him to stay in prison for the rest of his life.

The parole hearing, which took place by videoconference, was broadcast on local television in Paducah and on YouTube. There was also a public showing at a local community college where a handful of community members gathered to watch. They included Tommy Fletcher, a teacher who witnessed the aftermath of the shooting, entering the lobby just seconds after it was over.

In an interview after the hearing, Fletcher remembered the pain of that day when he stayed beside one of the students who died, but also the resilience of his community. On Dec. 2, 1997, school was open and students gathered for their prayer circle in the same lobby where their classmates had been shot the previous day.

“It was so empowering to see how everybody handled it,” Fletcher said. “It really brought us together.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

The Sanderson sisters' "Hocus Pocus" cottage. Kathy Najimy said that she and her costars, Bette Mid...
Emmy Abbassi, CNN

Stay in the ‘Hocus Pocus’ house for only $31

The Sanderson sisters of "Hocus Pocus" fame are inviting guests to stay at their creepy cottage in the remote woods of Salem, Massachusetts, this Halloween season.
1 day ago
UVALDE, TEXAS - JUNE 17: The Robb Elementary School sign is seen covered in flowers and gifts on Ju...
Stella Chan and Alaa Elassar, CNN

Uvalde parents have filed a federal lawsuit against gun manufacturers, and others

Uvalde parents sue gun manufacturers and other entities.
1 day ago
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 2...
Paul R. La Monica, CNN Business

Dow plunges and is back in a bear market

The third quarter is about to end and investors are wishing the past nine months good riddance. Stocks fell Thursday, giving up Wednesday's big gains. The Dow was down almost 650 points, or 2.1%, in midday trading.
1 day ago
Brenda Brennan sits next to a boat that pushed against her apartment when Hurricane Ian passed thro...
ADRIANA GOMEZ-LICON, Associated Press

Many trapped in Florida as Ian heads toward South Carolina

Rescue crews are wading through water and using boats to rescue Florida residents stranded in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
1 day ago
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a celebration of the 1990 passage of the Americans...
ZEKE MILLER and DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press

Biden to visit Florida when ‘conditions allow’ after storm

President Joe Biden says the entire United States "hurts" along with the people of Florida after Hurricane Ian flooded communities across the state.
1 day ago
Ukrainian troops ride upon a repaired Russian tank in a wooded area outside the city on September 2...
LOLITA C. BALDOR and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

US announces $1.1 billion more in military aid for Ukraine

The U.S. will provide an additional $1.1 billion in aid to Ukraine, with funding for about 18 more advanced rocket systems and other weapons to counter drones that Russia has been using against Ukrainian troops.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Kentucky school shooter imprisoned 25 years seeks parole