Heath High School shooting: Wikis


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Heath High School shooting
Location West Paducah, Kentucky, USA
Date December 1, 1997
Attack type School shooting, spree killing
Weapon(s) .22 caliber long rifle, 12 gauge pump-action shotgun, .22-caliber pistol
Death(s) 3
Injured 5
Perpetrator(s) Michael Carneal
Michael Carneal
Born June 1, 1983 (1983-06-01) (age 26)
Charge(s) Murder, Attempted murder
Penalty Life in prison without Parole for 25 years
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 3 young women, injuring four young women, and wounding one young man.


The shooting

On December 1, 1997 Carneal wrapped two shotguns and two rifles in a blanket and took them to school, passing them off as an art project he was working on. He also carried the loaded .22 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. Five people were hit in their heads and another three were hit in their chests. Three girls died while hospitalized and five others were wounded.

Member of the prayer group, Benjamin Strong, testified that Carneal dropped the gun of his own accord when he was finished.[1] 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." [2]




  • 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. She was a member of the Heartland Baptist Worship Center and the Heartland Baptist Youth Group. Her family had moved to Paducah from Nebraska the year before the shooting. Her parents received praise for their decision to donate Nicole'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.[3]
  • 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 and attended Lovelaceville Baptist Church.
  • Kayce Steger was a fifteen-year-old sophomore. Kayce 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, and attended 12th Street Baptist Church. 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.[4]


  • 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.[4]
  • Melissa “Missy” Jenkins, age 15 at the time, was president of the Future Homemakers of America. She was paralyzed from the chest down in the shooting. 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. [5]
  • Kelly Hard, 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.[6]
  • 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 members on December 1, 1997,: Nicole Hadley and Michael Carneal. [6] Holm has been involved with an organization that urges students to speak up if they know of threats against schools or students. [5]
  • Craig Keene, age 15 at the time, was a member of the Agape Club, the band, and the basketball team.[6]


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. 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 DJJ facility.[7]

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. Carneal will continue to serve out his sentence.

Carneal will be eligible for parole in October 2023.

Possible motives

According to reports, Carneal had been bullied by other students. Following the shooting, Carneal was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He has been hospitalised several times since the start of his incarceration due to psychosis, and takes medication for this condition.

Weeks before the incident, Carneal stole a .38 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 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 1995 film The Basketball Diaries. They claimed that media violence inspired Carneal and therefore should be held responsible. [8]

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."[9] Both Thompson[10] and 79th United States Attorney General John Ashcroft attributed Carneal's proficient marksmanship to practice in violent video games.[11]

Stephen King

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

Carneal now does some of his own writing. He mostly writes short stories and doggerels. Some of his art work and poems can be seen on murderabilia websites.[citation needed]

External links

Notes and references


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