Shooter paroled 25 years after fatal Kentucky school shooting

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Michael Carneal was 14 when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997 and is now on parole.

Carneal killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, in December 1997 during a prayer meeting before school. The shooting ended when Carneal put down his gun and the principal accompanied him to the school office.

Now he is on parole because his life sentence guaranteed a possibility of parole after 25 years, the maximum sentence allowed at the time for someone his age.

Carneal, now 39, will have a parole hearing this week.

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Michael Carneal was 14 when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997, and is now on parole.

One of the victims, Missy Jenkins Smith, kept track of how much time Carneal has before being eligible for parole.

“Twenty-five years was so long, so far,” she recalls thinking at the time of her sentencing.

Jenkins Smith was 15 when Carneal, whom she considered a friend, shot her. She remained paralyzed and uses a wheelchair to get around.

“I was like, ‘It’s been 10 years. How many more years?’ At the 20th anniversary memorial, I thought, ‘It’s getting closer.'” she said.

She doesn’t believe Carneal should be free. She worries that he won’t be able to handle life outside of prison and could still harm others, and she doesn’t think it’s fair for him to have a normal life after what he’s been through. ‘he did.

“So he has a chance at 39. People get married at 39. They have kids,” Jenkins Smith said. “It’s not fair for him to have a normal life that those three girls he killed will never have.”

The students killed in the shooting were Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15.

Carneal had killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, in December 1997 at a prayer meeting before school.

Carneal had killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, in December 1997 at a prayer meeting before school.

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Jenkins Smith visited Carneal in prison in 2007 and he apologized to her. She said she forgave him but he would still have to pay for his actions.

“A lot of people think that absolves him of the consequences, but I don’t think so,” she said.

Carneal’s parole hearing is due to begin on Monday with testimony from those injured in the shooting and relatives of those who were killed. Jenkins Smith said she only knew of one victim who thought Carneal should be granted some form of supervised release, which would be less confining than prison but not unlimited freedom.

The students killed in the shooting were Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15.

The students killed in the shooting were Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15.

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The Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange will hear Carneal make his case.

The parole hearing will be conducted virtually via video call. Jenkins Smith said she would position her camera so her whole body could be seen to show the parole board her wheelchair.

She said it will be “a reminder that everyone who suffered this impact 25 years ago is still dealing with it, for the rest of their lives”.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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