A victim who was paralyzed for more than half her life after a classmate shot her in a 1997 school massacre has criticized authorities for not immediately refusing her parole following this week’s hearings.
Michael Carneal, 39, spoke Tuesday before two members of the Kentucky State Parole Board. He is serving a life sentence for killing three 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. Sitting in her wheelchair, she gave emotional victim testimony via video in front of board members the day before Carneal’s appearance. He told the board that he was taking three psychiatric medications but still hears voices and doesn’t “pay attention” to his specific diagnoses.
Noting her testimony, Jenkins Smith was not swayed by her request and shared in a Facebook post on Tuesday that she “didn’t think things went well for Michael today.”
“I was surprised that the board did not reach a unanimous decision, but I trust that the full board will do the right thing next week. I didn’t see any evidence that he is better today, 25 years later, or that he put a lot of effort into preparing for this hearing, and I think the board saw that too,” she wrote. “From my point of view, he is functioning and safe in prison, and so are we. Let’s keep it that way.”
Ladeidra N. Jones, chairman of the board, pointed out during Carneal’s testimony that parole officials received letters from his attorney and family, but nothing from the inmate himself. When asked why on Tuesday, he said he thought it had all been covered in the information submitted by others.
Jones pointed out that his mental health prognosis remained “poor” after decades of treatment and that he continued to experience “paranoid thoughts with violent visual imagery.”
Carneal admitted this and told the board that while he still hears voices, he has learned to control his actions and seek help. He looked nervous and restless during the hour-long interview with Ms. Jones and his colleague Larry Brock.
Mrs. Jones and board member Larry Brock heard Carneal’s testimony but were unable to reach a unanimous decision on parole. The case will be heard by the parole board on Monday.
Carneal told the council on Tuesday that, at 14, he knew right from wrong but attributed the massacre to a “combination of factors”.
“I was hearing things and I was extremely suspicious,” he told the board. “And I had felt for years, feeling alienated and different, and I think when I started to develop mental health issues, it fueled that — and it kind of… made my mental health issues worse, that I spent those years feeling that way.”
He told the board: “I was 14 at the time and hadn’t experienced anything in my life, really. I didn’t know exactly the effect of what I would do.”
Carneal shot dead Nicole Hadley, 14; Jessica James, 17; and Kayce Steger, 15. Jenkins Smith, one of the five injured, considered Carneal a friend and knew him reasonably well, although she told the board he should remain in prison.
“I want you to consider how long he’s been cared for by other people,” Missy, now married and a mother of two, told the board. “From age 14 to age 39, he didn’t have the responsibility to take care of himself and he’s been taken care of for the last 25 years.
“How could anyone confidently say that he could do this for the rest of his life?” she asked, before adding, “Are there too many ‘what ifs’ – to assume he would be responsible enough to take care of himself and not let his mental illness cause him to harm someone again? Continuing his life in prison is the only way for his victims to feel comfortable and safe without being haunted.”
Also on Tuesday, Carneal told the board that his sister and parents, with whom he would initially live after any release, supported him and promised to take him to any medical appointments. He said he was taking three psychiatric medications and would continue outside care if released.
“I think I can do a lot of good out there,” Carneal said, adding that he would be satisfied with a job in fast food or sanitation or anything, really. “I think I could fit in with the community. I think it could benefit people as a whole.”
One of his victims, Hollan Holm, who was shot in the head by Carneal and still has the scar on his forehead, pleaded Monday for the release of his attacker.
“I was still a kid,” said Holm, who was 14 at the time of the shooting and will be 40 in December. “Everyone in the Heath High School lobby that day, including Michael Carneal, was a kid. It took me 25 years to fully appreciate how little I knew that day – how much of life I didn’t live and how far from adult I was in my thinking and my ability.”
Carneal went on to say that he felt responsible for the plague of mass shootings that followed his actions. While he wasn’t the first school shooter, Columbine followed soon after — in 1999 — and anchored the crimes as a national horror. Carneal said he became suicidal and was hospitalized when he heard the news.
The family of Nicole Hadley, who was shot dead by Carneal, on Monday argued vehemently against her release.
“He not only killed Nicole, he also killed Kayce and Jessice and tried to kill five more students,” Chuck Hadley told parole board members. “I believe the murderer should never leave prison and should serve the remainder of his life sentence.”
Gwen Hadley added that she “will not see Nicole achieve her goals, get married, have kids and be an aunt.”
“We as a family miss her at every family event. Nicole will always be missed,” she said.