Heath High School shooting

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Heath High School shooting
Location West Paducah, Kentucky, USA
Date December 1, 1997
Attack type
School shooting, spree killing
Deaths 3
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Michael Carneal
Motive Bullying and mental illness
Michael Carneal
Born (1983-06-01) June 1, 1983 (age 34)
Criminal charge Murder, Attempted murder
Criminal penalty Life in prison with no Parole for 25 years
Criminal status Incarcerated

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

The shooting[edit]

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. Three girls died while hospitalized and five others were wounded.

A member of the prayer group, Benjamin Strong, testified that Carneal dropped the gun of his own accord when he was finished.[2] 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."[3]



  • Nicole Hadley was a fourteen-year-old freshman. Nicole was kept alive until 10:00pm the evening of the shooting. Nicole played in the school band and on the freshman basketball team. Her family had moved to Paducah from Nebraska the year before the shooting. Her parents received praise for their decision to donate Hadley's organs, a decision they said their daughter supported. President Clinton cited the family's "courageous decision" in his Proclamation 7083 on National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week in 1998.[4]
  • Jessica James was a seventeen-year-old student. Jessica died in surgery at Western Baptist Hospital Monday afternoon. She was a member of the marching band.
  • Kayce Steger was a fifteen-year-old sophomore. Steger died at Lourdes Hospital in Paducah about 45 minutes after the shooting. Kayce played clarinet in the school band, played on the softball team, and was a member of the Agape Club. She was an honor student, worked at Subway. She was a member of Law Enforcement Explorers Post 111 and hoped to be a police officer. Her parents reported that Michael Carneal had asked her out on a date a little over a month before the shooting.[5]


  • Shelley Schaberg, 17 at the time, 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.[5]
  • Melissa "Missy" Jenkins, age 15 at the time, 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 home page of YouTube.com on April 22, 2007.[6]
  • Kelly Hard Alsip,[7] 16 at the time, 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.[8]
  • Hollan Holm, age 14 at the time, 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.[8] Holm has been involved with an organization that urges students to speak up if they know of threats against schools or students.[6]
  • Craig Keene, age 15 at the time, was a member of the Agape Club, the band, and the basketball team.[8]


In October 1998, Judge Jeff Hines accepted a plea of guilty from Michael Carneal, due to his mental illness (see below). 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. 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.[9] Carneal's Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) ID is 151127. Carneal began serving time with KDOC on June 1, 2001.[10]

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 set up a hearing that was scheduled for September 11, 2008. The Court's ruling would decide whether to grant Carneal a new competency hearing and a trial. The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected his request and Carneal will continue to serve out his sentence.

Possible motives[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.[11] Following the shooting, Carneal was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder and dysthymia. Dr. 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 the diagnosis to schizophrenia.[12][13] 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.[14][15]

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 neighbors home and broke into the garage, taking:

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

Later, he also stole:

  • 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.


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.[16]

The case was dismissed in 2001. 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.[17] Both Thompson[18] and 79th United States Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed Carneal's proficient marksmanship was due to practice in violent video games.[19]

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.[20] King's other Bachman novels are available in the US in separate volumes.

Popular culture[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.wlky.com/news/survivors-remember-deadly-ky-school-shooting-17-years-later/29801912
  2. ^ "When Grief Wanted a Hero, Truth Didn't Get in the Way", New York Times, 25 July 2000
  3. ^ "When The Silence Fell". Time. 2001-06-24. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  4. ^ "Proclamation 7083 on National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week". Retrieved 1998.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help).
  5. ^ a b National Research Council. "Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence". Retrieved 2002.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help).
  6. ^ a b Joseph Gerth. "Victims of the attack find different ways to move on with lives". Retrieved 2001.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help).
  7. ^ "Michael Carneal's victims and families talk about his request for a new trial". Time. 2008-09-11. Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  8. ^ a b c National Research Council. "Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence". Retrieved 2002.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  9. ^ "Kentucky school shooter - guilty but mentally ill". CNN. 1998-10-05. Archived from the original on 2007-09-13. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  10. ^ "Carneal, Michael A." Kentucky Department of Corrections. Retrieved on December 2, 2015.
  11. ^ NY Times. "Finding Futility in Trying to Lay Blame in Killings". Retrieved 2014.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help).
  12. ^ https://casetext.com/case/carneal-v-crews-3.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ky-supreme-court/1150930.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ "School shooter Michael Carneal recalls delusions". WDRB. October 6, 2010. Retrieved July 6, 2017. 
  15. ^ Harned, Carrie (September 12, 2002). "Carneal Recalls 1997 High School Shooting Rampage". WAVE3 News. Retrieved July 6, 2017. 
  16. ^ AP, (April 13, 1999), Media Companies Are Sued in Kentucky Shooting, The New York Times .
  17. ^ James v. Meow Media, Inc. 300 F.3d 683, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2002 
  18. ^ Richard Danielson. "Programmed to Kill." St. Petersburg Times. 22 March 2000. Accessed 14 March 2009 <http://www.sptimes.com/News/032200/Floridian/Programmed_to_kill.shtml>
  19. ^ Associated Press. "Ashcroft Attacks Video Violence." Wired.com. 5 April 2001. Accessed 14 March 2009 <http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2001/04/42856>
  20. ^ http://www.hodder.co.uk/book_details.asp?book=110665

External links[edit]

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