Heath High School shooting

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Heath High School shooting
Location of Heath High School is located in the United States
Location of Heath High School
Location of Heath High School
Location of Heath High School (the United States)
Location of Heath High School is located in Kentucky
Location of Heath High School
Location of Heath High School
Location of Heath High School (Kentucky)
LocationWest Paducah, Kentucky, U.S.
Coordinates37°04′44″N 88°47′40″W / 37.0790°N 88.7944°W / 37.0790; -88.7944
DateDecember 1, 1997
7:45 AM (CST)
Attack type
School shooting, mass shooting
PerpetratorMichael Carneal
MotiveBullying and mental illness

The Heath High School shooting occurred at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, United States, on December 1, 1997. Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on a group of praying students, killing three and injuring five more.


On December 1, 1997, Carneal wrapped a shotgun and a rifle in a blanket and took them to school, passing them off as an art project he was working on. He also carried a loaded Ruger MK II .22-caliber pistol in his backpack. Carneal rode to school with his sister and arrived at approximately 7:45 a.m. When he arrived, he inserted earplugs and took the pistol out of his bag. He fired eight rounds in fast succession at a youth prayer group of students. Three girls later died and five other students were wounded.

Brittney Thomas, a survivor, claimed that when she turned around during the shooting, she was "kind of facing down the barrel of the gun."[2]

A member of the prayer group, Benjamin Strong, testified that Carneal dropped the gun of his own accord after the shooting.[3] 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."[4]



  • Nicole Hadley was a fourteen-year-old freshman who played in the school band and on the freshman basketball team. She was kept alive until 10:00 pm the evening of the shooting. Her family had moved to Paducah from Nebraska the year before. Her parents were praised for donating her organs. President Bill Clinton cited this "courageous decision" in his Proclamation 7083 on National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week in 1998.[5]
  • Jessica James was a seventeen-year-old student and member of the marching band. She died in surgery at Western Baptist Hospital the afternoon of the shooting.
  • Kayce Steger was a fifteen-year-old sophomore, a clarinetist in the school band and a member of the Agape Club and softball team. She died at Lourdes Hospital in Paducah about 45 minutes after the shooting. She was an honor student and member of Law Enforcement Explorers Post 111 who hoped to be a police officer.[6]


  • Shelley Schaberg, 17, 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.[6]
  • Melissa "Missy" Jenkins, 15, was president of the Future Homemakers of America. She was paralyzed after being shot in the chest. Missy has appeared on numerous national and local television shows, talked to newspaper reporters and is appearing in two TV commercials for Channel One News, an educational channel that reaches schools throughout the country. A video interview of her was featured on the homepage of YouTube.com on April 22, 2007.[7]
  • Kelly Hard Alsip,[8] 16, 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.[9]
  • Hollan Holm, 14, 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 class members on December 1, 1997: Nicole Hadley and Michael Carneal.[9] Holm has been involved with an organization that urges students to speak up if they know of threats against schools or students.[7]
  • Craig Keene, 15, was a member of the Agape Club, the band, and the basketball team.[9]


Michael Carneal
Michael Adam Carneal

(1983-07-01) July 1, 1983 (age 36)
Criminal statusIncarcerated
Criminal chargeMurder, Attempted murder
PenaltyLife in prison with no Parole for 25 years

Michael Adam Carneal (born July 1, 1983) was a 14-year old freshman at the time of the shooting.[10] Carneal told reporters that he couldn't give a single explanation for his crimes, and that contributing factors included a mistaken belief that his parents didn't love him, taunting from classmates, and false claims he was gay. He also stated that he didn't know who he was aiming at until he read the names in the paper.[11]

Weeks before the incident, Carneal stole a .38 caliber handgun from his parents' room and attempted to sell it. A student took the gun, threatening to tell police if Carneal did not give it to him. 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 neighbor's home.

On the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, Carneal went to his neighbor's home and broke into the garage, taking"[12]

  • Four .22 rifles
  • A 30-30 rifle
  • .22 and 12 gauge ammunition
  • Earplugs

Later, he also stole:[13]

  • 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.

Mental illness[edit]

According to reports, Carneal had been bullied by other students and suffered from anxiety, depression, and severe paranoia. His paranoia was manifested in habits such as covering up vents and windows while in bathrooms, because he believed he was being watched.[14] Following the shooting, Carneal was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder and dysthymia. Kathleen O'Connor, who treated Carneal while he was incarcerated at the Northern Kentucky Youth Development Center, initially agreed with this diagnosis but later determined that Carneal actually had paranoid schizophrenia. Dewey Cornell and Diane Schetky, who evaluated Carneal after the shooting, later changed their diagnosis to schizophrenia.[15][16] He has been hospitalized several times since the start of his incarceration due to psychosis, and takes the anti-depressant Zoloft and Geodon, an anti-psychotic used to treat schizophrenia.[17][18]

Stephen King[edit]

Carneal had in his locker at the time a copy of Stephen King's novel Rage (first published in 1977 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman). After this shooting King requested his publisher to allow it to go out of print, fearing that it might inspire similar tragedies. Rage for a time continued to be available in the United Kingdom in The Bachman Books collection, although the collection now no longer contains Rage.[19]


In October 1998, Judge Jeff Hines accepted a plea of guilty from Michael Carneal, due to his mental illness. Under a plea arrangement, the judge agreed to accept the pleas on condition that Carneal would receive a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 25 years (2023). According to prosecutor Tim Kaltenbach, the plea allows Carneal to receive mental health treatment during imprisonment as long as this is necessary for him or until he is released.[20] Carneal was transported to the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange when he turned 18 where he remains. Prior to that he was held in at Northern Kentucky Youth Development Center, a Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice facility in Crittenden.[21] Carneal's Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) ID is 151127. Carneal began serving time with KDOC on June 1, 2001.[22]

In 2007, Carneal filed an appeal claiming that he was too mentally ill to plead guilty in 1998 to the shooting at Heath High School and asked the Kentucky Supreme Court for a re-trial. Prosecutors appealed and the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected his request and Carneal will continue to serve out his sentence.[citation needed]

In 2012, he attempted to withdraw his plea claiming he was mentally ill at the time he made it, later in the year the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request stating he should have acted sooner.[20]

Settlement for families[edit]

The families of the deceased have agreed to a $42 million settlement from Carneal, however at the time of settlement Carneal had no assets and his family’s insurance company, Kentucky Farm Bureau, has insisted repeatedly through court motions that it is not liable for his actions.[23]


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 1994 film Natural Born Killers and the 1995 film The Basketball Diaries. They claimed that media violence inspired Carneal and therefore should be held responsible for the deaths that occurred.[24]

The case was dismissed in 2002. 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." The same year, an identical case was brought against the same companies by the family of the teacher killed in the Columbine High School massacre. It was dismissed in 2002.[25] Both Thompson[26] and United States Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed Carneal's proficient marksmanship was due to practice in violent video games.[27]


Family of victims organized a 20th anniversary service to commemorate the victims, and open a memorial for the victims placed across the street from the school. The memorial was built in a circle to symbolize the prayer circle that was targeted, with five benches representing the five surviving victims.[11]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.wlky.com/news/survivors-remember-deadly-ky-school-shooting-17-years-later/29801912
  2. ^ Philpott, Amber. "Remembering a deadly Kentucky high school shooting 20 years later". Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  3. ^ Glaberson, William (2000-07-25). "When Grief Wanted a Hero, Truth Didn't Get in the Way". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  4. ^ "When The Silence Fell". Time. 2001-06-24. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  5. ^ "Proclamation 7083 on National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week"..
  6. ^ a b National Research Council. "Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence". Retrieved 2002. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help).
  7. ^ a b Joseph Gerth. "Victims of the attack find different ways to move on with lives"..
  8. ^ "Michael Carneal's victims and families talk about his request for a new trial". Time. 2008-09-11. Retrieved 2011-06-21.
  9. ^ a b c National Research Council. "Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence".
  10. ^ CNN, Madison Park. "20 years ago, another Kentucky school was attacked. Locals have never forgotten it". CNN. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  11. ^ a b "Sister of Paducah, Ky., shooting victim: 'I couldn't believe this could happen again'". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  12. ^ Bragg, Rick (3 December 1997). "Forgiveness, after 3 die in shootings in Kentucky". The New York Times. New York, NY: New York Times Company. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  13. ^ "UPI Focus: Boy indicted in Ky. school shooting". Boca Raton, Florida: News World Communications. United Press International. 12 December 1997. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Finding futility in trying to lay blame in killings". New York Times. 2000-08-04..
  15. ^ "Carneal v. Crews". CaseText. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  16. ^ "Commonwealth v. Carneal". Findlaw. Supreme Court of Kentucky case and opinions. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  17. ^ "School shooter Michael Carneal recalls delusions". Louisville, Kentucky: WDRB. 6 October 2010. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  18. ^ Harned, Carrie (12 September 2002). "Carneal recalls 1997 high school shooting rampage". WAVE3 News. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-12. Retrieved 2009-01-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ a b "Heath 20 Years Later: Michael Carneal". WPSD Local 6 - Your News, Weather, & Sports Authority. 2017-11-28. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  21. ^ "Kentucky school shooter - guilty but mentally ill". CNN. 1998-10-05. Archived from the original on 2007-09-13. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  22. ^ "Carneal, Michael A." Kentucky Department of Corrections. Retrieved on December 2, 2015.
  23. ^ News, A. B. C. (2006-01-07). "Paducah Families Accept Shooting Settlement". ABC News. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  24. ^ "Media companies are sued in Kentucky shooting". The New York Times. New York Times Company. 13 April 1999. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  25. ^ James v. Meow Media, Inc. 300 F.3d 683, U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2002
  26. ^ Danielson, Richard (22 March 2000). "Programmed to kill". St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, Florida: Times Publishing Company. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  27. ^ "Ashcroft attacks video violence". Wired.com. New York, NY: Condé Nast. 5 April 2001. Retrieved 14 March 2009.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°04′43″N 88°47′36″W / 37.07861°N 88.79333°W / 37.07861; -88.79333