Michael Carneal: Paralysed school shooting victim hits out at parole board for indecision on gunman’s release
A victim who has been paralyzed for more than half his life after fellow students shot him in a 1997 school massacre criticized authorities for not immediately denying him parole after a hearing this week.
MIchael Carneal, 39, spoke before two members of the Kentucky State Parole Board on Tuesday. He is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting three of his classmates at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, and injuring five others when he was 14.
Missy Jenkins Smith, 40, was one of the injured. Seated in his wheelchair, he testified to the psychological victimization by video before board members a day before his own appearance at the carnival. He told the board he was on three psychiatric medications but still heard voices and “didn’t pay attention” to his specific diagnosis.
After her testimony, Ms. Jenkins Smith appeared uncomfortable with her plea and shared in a Facebook post on Tuesday that she “didn’t think things went well for Michael today.”
“I was surprised the board couldn’t come to a unanimous decision, but I believe the entire board will do the right thing next week. I’ve seen no evidence that 25 years later today he’s any better, or that he’s put much effort into preparing for this hearing, and I think the board sees that as well,” he wrote. “From my perspective, he’s working and safe in prison and We’re here too. Let’s keep it that way.”
Board Chairperson Ladeidra N. Jones, during Carnial’s testimony, noted that parole authorities had received letters from his legal counsel and family, but none from the inmate. Asked why Tuesday, he said he thought everything was covered in the information sent by others.
Ms Jones noted that her mental health prognosis remained “poor” after decades of treatment and she continued to experience “paranoid thoughts with violent visual images”.
Karnial acknowledged this and told the board that while he still hears voices, he has learned to control his actions and seek help. During the hour-long interview with Ms. Jones and her fellow board member Larry Brock, he became nervous and agitated.
Ms. Jones and fellow board member Larry Brock heard Carneal’s testimony but could not reach a unanimous decision on parole. The full parole board will hear the case on Monday.
Karnial told the board Tuesday that, at age 14, he knew right from wrong but blamed the massacre on a “combination of factors.”
“I was hearing things, and I was extremely suspicious,” he told the board. “And I felt, for years, isolated and different, and I think that when I started developing mental health issues, it fed into that — and it kind of … it made my mental health issues worse. Makes it worse, that the years I’ve spent seem like that.”
He told the board: “I was 14 at the time, and I didn’t really feel anything in life. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do.”
Carnial fatally shoots Nicole Hadley, 14; Jessica James, 17; and Kayce Steger, 15. Mrs Jenkins Smith, one of the five injured, considered Carneal a friend and knew him reasonably well, although she told the board he should be in prison.
“I want you to consider how long he has been cared for by others,” Missy, now a married mother of two, told the board. “From the age of 14 to her current age of 39, she had no responsibility to take care of herself and has been taken care of for the past 25 years.
“How can anyone say with confidence that he can do this for the rest of his life?” He asked, before adding: “A lot of ‘what ifs'” – assuming he’ll be responsible enough to take care of himself and not let his mental illness hurt anyone again? Continuing his life in prison is the only way his victims can feel comfortable and safe without being haunted.”
Also on Tuesday, Karnial told the board that his sister and parents, with whom he would initially live after any release, were supportive and promised to take him to any doctor’s appointments. He said he was on three psychiatric medications and would continue to receive outpatient care when released.
“I think I could do a lot better there,” Karnial said, adding that he would be satisfied with a job in fast food or sanitation or anything. “I think I would have been a good fit for the community. I think I can benefit people as a whole.”
One of his victims, Hollan Holm, who was shot in the head by Karnial and still has scars along his hairline, argued Monday for his attacker’s release.
“I was still a child,” said Mr. Holm, who was 14 at the time of the shooting and will turn 40 in December. “Everybody was a kid in the Heath High School lobby that day, including Michael Carneal. It took me 25 years to realize how little I knew that day – how much life I hadn’t lived and how far from adulthood I was in my thinking and my abilities.”
Karnial said he felt responsible for the plague of mass shootings after his actions. Although he was not the first school shooter, Columbine followed soon after – in 1999 – and anchored the crimes as a national horror. Karnial said he became suicidal and was admitted to the hospital after hearing the news.
The family of Nicole Hadley, who was fatally shot by Carnial, argued strongly against her release on Monday.
Chuck Hadley told parole board members, “He not only killed Nicole, he also killed Kayce and Jessie and tried to kill five other students.” “I believe the murderer should never be released from prison and should serve the rest of his life.”
Gwen Hadley added that she “will never see Nicole reach her goals, get married, have kids and be an aunt.”
“We as a family miss him at all family functions. Nicole will always be missed,” he said.