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
girls and wounding 5 others.
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 .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.
Three girls died while hospitalized and five others were
Member of the prayer group, Benjamin Strong,
testified that Carneal dropped the gun of his own accord when he was
finished. 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."
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.
Jessica James was a seventeen-year-old
senior. Jessica died in surgery at Western Baptist
Hospital Monday afternoon.
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.
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
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, 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. Melissa Jenkins video
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.
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.
Holm has been involved with an organization that
urges students to speak up if they know of threats
against schools or students.
Craig Keene, age 15 at the time,
was a member of the Agape Club, the band, and the
Because of his small frame and
physical weakness, Carneal was frequently bullied. He
would bring items to schools and sell them in an attempt
to make friends. Carneal's name was published in a
middle school paper gossip column claiming that he had
feelings for another male student. This led to more name-calling,
with students now calling him names such as "homo" and "faggot"
Carneal was a B-student at Heath High
School. He was also said to be a good student with no
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 Carnael didn't give it to him. The student
promised to pay Carneal later, but never did.
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 friend's home.
On the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day
Carneal went to a friend's home and broke into the
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.
1, 1997: Shooting at Heath High School
On the 1st of December, 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 7:45AM.
When he arrived he inserted ear plugs
and pulled the pistol out of his bag. He fired 8 rounds
in quick succession at a youth prayer group. After
seeing that he had fatally injured a friend of his (Nicole
Hadley), he placed his pistol on the ground and
surrendered to the school principal Bill Bond.
Carneal was sentenced to three
concurrent life sentences for 3 counts of murder and an
additional 120 years for 5 counts of attempted murder
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.
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."
In what's becoming frighteningly commonplace, on
December 1, 1997, a high school freshman went on a deadly rampage
killing three fellow student and wounding five others.
a self-professed atheist, shot 11 rounds at a morning prayer circle in
the lobby of his Paducah, Kentucky, high school.
The boy, who had three
spare clips of ammunition and four other guns, surrendered when Ben
Strong -- a pastor's son and leader of the prayer circle -- talked him
into putting the gun down.
Afterward, in what could be the understament
of the year, Mike told Heath High School Principal Bill Bond that he was
sorry. "He acted just like he had been caught with some minor
offense." The principal said he locked the freshman inside his
office with a teacher to guard him until police arrived. The teen-ager
told English teacher Tobe Dulworth after the shootings, "It was
like I was a in dream, and I woke up."
The killer teen showed up to school with an arsenal --
a .22-caliber handgun with three spare clips of ammunition, two rifles
and two shotguns -- he had stolen from a neighbor's garage on
He wrapped the rifles and shotguns in blankets and
told curious classmates they were props for a science project.
Apparently the lethal atheist, who had heckled at the prayer group in
previous occasions, waited until group was finished their morning prayer
before calmly inserting earplugs and pulling the pistol out of a
backpack. "As soon as they said amen, he opened up on them,"
Bond said. "Only the first three shots could have been aimed. After
that, it was just as fast as he could pull the trigger." Mike kept
firing until he had one bullet left.
According to friends, the 14-year-old boy skateboarder
and alternative music fananatic warned last week that "something
big's going to happen," but they all thought he was planning some
kind of prank. "They saw him as a jokester," a local reverend
said. "Even when he pulled the gun, they thought it was a toy. They
had no idea he was capable of any of this."
Bond said Mike was
short, emotionally immature and was sometimes picked on by the older
football players. "He got it bad from some kids, but not as bad as
some other kids get it around here. He never said anything about getting
revengeor anything like that," said Trent Mathis, who knew Mike
from playing in the school band together.
An examination of Mike's
school essays and short stories done by Principal Bond revealed that the
bespectacled 14-year-old felt weak and was constantly teased and picked
on by, among others, Ben Strong. "He's a very intelligent young man,"
the principal said. "He had some minor problems, but he's never
been suspended from school."
Heath High School, just west of Paducah, has an
enrollment of about 600 students in grades nine through 12. Classes were
dismissed for the day at the school and an adjacent middle school as
distressed parents arrived. Even though the memories and the pain of the
rampage were still fresh, Heath High School held classes the day after.
Principal Bill Bond said it was important to go back to classes to show,
"we can't let one mixed-up person destroy our society... If someone
believes in anarchy and we let that anarchy control us, then he is in
control of us."
Prosecuting attorney Timothy Kaltenbach said that
Hollywood was to blame for Mike's lethal outburst. Especifically the
1995 Leonardo DiCaprio movie Basketball Diaries. The film -- based on
the life of Jim Carroll, a high school basketball player who turned to
drugs and violence -- includes a dream scene, in which Carroll shoots
classmates and a teacher.
Mike made a passing reference to the movie under
questioning by investigators. "They asked him had he ever seen this
before, ever seen anything done like this, and he said, 'Yes, I have
seen this done in Basketball Diaries,'" Kaltenbach said. Steve
Elzer, vice president of publicity for New Line Cinema, which released
the movie, said the studio had no comment. Author Jim Carroll said he
was "extremely saddened by the recent events... What happened in
Kentucky was a product of the pernicous violence of our time and the act
of an unbalanced individual," and not a result from his book.
Mike also told investigators he talked with friends
about taking control of his school and shooting students for over a year.
Understandably, no one took him seriously. However, authorities began
interviewing his classmates. One student reportedly quickly retained a
Teen lives out murderous dream
By Lisa Popyk, Special to The Post
PADUCAH, Ky. - He stood in the center
of the school corridor. His head up, back straight and hands wrapped
around the handle of a .22-caliber semiautomatic Ruger. All around him,
people were running in panic.
Just a few feet away, Kelly Carneal barely recognized
her little brother. She had never seen him ''look so big.''
For a withdrawn 14-year-old accustomed to living in
fear and cowering from confrontation, it was a dream become reality.
Finally, Michael Carneal (left) was the one in control.
Until now, each rustle in the tree, knock at the door
or shadowy movement in the corner was cause for alarm. And every
youngster's transgression or teen's teasing was an indefensible assault
on his soul.
A siege on Heath High School was to be his chance ''to
be more powerful and better than'' those who made fun of him.
But the surge of omnipotence lasted precious few
moments on Dec. 1, 1997. After a series of ''pops,'' friends and
classmates were screaming, five were wounded and three were dead. The
respect he'd come looking for had turned to horror.
Michael dropped his weapon and crumpled. ''Kill me,
please,'' he said. ''I can't believe I did that.''
Down the hall, Kelly was sobbing. Her sensitive
little brother - who still wanted to be tucked in bed at night, who wept
over the plight of street people and winced at the thought of anyone
being injured - had just opened fire on their friends.
''None of us could believe that Michael had been
involved,'' said family friend, Rick Walters. ''He was just your typical
To everyone else, maybe. But not to Michael.
His world - according to a series of interviews
Michael and his family have had with police, counselors and
investigators - wasa place where he didn't fit in and couldn't find a
friend. A place where he had no control.
Over the years, Michael had grown so focused on his
perceived abuse by classmates and teachers, that he'd begun to see spies
in the air vents and assailants in every shadow.
In his mind and in the stories he wrote for class, he
created scenarios where an enemy would attack him or his family and he
would battle them to the death, emerging the victorious hero. In one
essay, the slain villains were the school ''preppies.''
Heath High School Principal Bill Bond said Michael's
writings were filled with ''pent-up frustration'' and hatred.
''He tended to dwell excessively in his world of
fantasy to make up for the control and power he felt he lacked in his
real life,'' said Forensic Psychiatrist Dianne Schetky, who evaluated
Michael for the prosecution following the slayings.
''He began to perceive the world as a dangerous place
where people were out to harm him and his thinking became paranoid. His
paranoid views of the world, in turn, reinforced his need to ...defend
Michael told Ms. Schetky that his earliest childhood
memories were of being left out during preschool play periods and of
spending time in first grade with the teacher's toys ''because I didn't
have any friends.''
In second grade, his only friend was another outcast,
Jacob, who was teased because he was poor. And in third and fourth
grade, he developed a friendship with Jessica Brown, who rode the bus
with Michael and whom he would later kill. Although Jessica once stabbed
Michael in the hand with a pencil, Michael said he ''didn't have any
choice except to be nice to her because she was the only person I had to
Each year of his childhood, his strongest memory was
of some incident of torment. Students putting frog parts on his shoulder
during dissection class, someone tossing his prize class project on the
roof, classmates hitting him for no reason and a teacher failing him for
a creative idea to build jails underwater.
''He hoarded these perceived injustices and dwelled
on them rather than letting go of them as many kids would,'' Ms. Schetky
said in her report.
''Most adolescents turn to peers, athletics,
extracurricular activities or academics to help them negotiate the
passage of adolescence, lessen their ties to parents and develop a sense
of self and autonomy.''
But Michael struck out in baseball, at 5-foot-2 was
too small for most other sports and couldn't compete with his straight-A
sister in school. ''He said he'd been trying hard to live up to her, but
that he keeps getting into trouble,'' Ms. Schetky said.
Developing autonomy at home also didn't work as it
was the only place Michael truly felt welcome, loved and secure. ''I
didn't think anybody really cared about me except my sister and parents,''
Kelly described her brother as ''a baby'' at home,
who still liked to be cuddled and put to bed at night. His parents,
seeing that he lacked the self-confidence of his popular sister, gave
him extra attention. His father, John, an attorney, said a special
prayer for his son every night.
Michael also was extremely sensitive by nature and
had an unflinching sense of right and wrong. His parents said that even
as a child, he ''could never deal with inequities.''
He cried when he saw home less people and quit the
Boy Scouts because he ''disliked the authority thing,'' where higher-
ranking scouts had more say in activities. He also dropped out of karate
after accidentally kicking his partner in the face, causing a nosebleed.
His preoccupation with fair play only made the taunts
by classmates more painful.
''Like many teen-agers, he was hypersensitive to his
classmates' statements about him,'' said de fense attorney Charles
Granner. ''He felt inadequate, unworthy, unloved, unrespected and unac
cepted by his peer group.
''At 14 years of age, Michael's peer group was
critical to his self-esteem. Michael felt as if he were a massive
failure, doomed to be different and ...a nobody.''
Always, Michael's response was to shrink back, try
harder, be nicer. His sister said Michael wanted desperately to fit in
and tried joking around and trying to help others. His efforts, howev er,
were interpreted as signs of weakness by his classmates, whose teasing
escalated into name calling and then labeling Michael as ''gay'' and a
Michael told investigators that he often would find
himself sobbing and not knowing why.
He'd unleash his frustrations on a steel drum kept in
the back yard. And in seventh grade, he contemplated suicide because he
''had no friends for two years.'' A year before the slayings, he sliced
his arm with a sewing nee dle when his efforts to befriend a group of
classmates backfired and they, too, began teasing him.
By middle school, he began to see himself as a target
for abuse everywhere. In two psychiatric evaluations, Michael was de
scribed as paranoid.
When he showered, Michael covered the bathroom air
vents with thick towels because ''peo ple might be looking ... people
might climb into the vents through the basement to look.'' When he'd
finish, he would wrap himself in three to four more towels and make a
quick dash for his bedroom. Sometimes, he told investigators, when he
heard a knock on the window, he thought people were trying to get to him
or his family.
Often, he would jump up, grab his pocketknife and go
check on his mother, Ann, to make sure she was all right.
A month before the slayings, his mother found a stash
of kitchen knives under Michael's mattress. Michael said he was
collecting them for protection. ''If someone came in, maybe I could stop
His imaginary fears also kept Michael from sleeping
in his own room. Frequently, he would slip out to the family room couch
so that he wouldn't be so far away from the rest of the family.
That fall, Michael's grades slumped and he began
rocking while sitting at the dinner table. He also started talking to
classmates about a movie he'd seen a year earlier, ''The Basketball
Diaries,'' which featured an academic outcast taking a gun to school and
slaying his teacher and classmates, to the applause of his friends.
The idea of using a gun to win respect hit a chord
with Michael. He began telling students that he, too, was ''planning
He fantasized with classmates about ''pulling guns in
school and seeing everyone run away.'' He and the other boys joked about
being able to take over the library, steal the computers and talk on the
The other boys laughed about it, but Michael took it
seriously. He began taking his father's revolver to school, tucked in
the bottom of his book bag. ''It made him feel safe,'' said Dewey
Cornell, director of the University of Virginia Youth Violence Project,
who also interviewed Michael.
One day, he took a .22-caliber Ruger he'd stolen from
neighbors. He pulled it on two classmates but they were unimpressed,
saying it wasn't very powerful. On December 1, he came with an arsenal:
two shotguns, two rifles, two handguns.
In the days preceding the slayings, Michael warned
some students who had ''been nice'' to him to stay away from an early
morning prayer group that met before the start of classes in the front
The prayer group, according to Mrs. Carneal, was a
closed one - one that Michael had never been invited to join.
On Thanksgiving Day, Michael stole the guns he would
use to kill his classmates. He climbed in through a neighbor's window,
taking along a duffle bag he had hidden earlier in the woods. He took
five guns from their display case and boxes of bullets.
After slipping from the house, he climbed the fence,
crossed a field and stole into an old barn to examine his cache. Holding
them up to the light of the late afternoon sun, he said they made him
Once home, he snuck into his parents' bedroom, took
his dad's double barrel shotgun, then hid all the weapons in a crate in
his bedroom closet.
Two days later, he wrapped the weapons in paper, then
a bed sheet. The .22, he put in his book bag.
Monday morning, he loaded the package into the trunk
of his sister's car, and told her it was ''an English project - props
for a play.''
Once inside the building, he joked with students who
asked him if he had guns in his curious package, then made his way to
the front lobby.
There, he set the rifles down and put in two bright
orange hunting ear plugs. Methodically, he pulled the Ruger from his
book bag and the clips from his pocket, positioned himself just to the
side of the prayer circle, and began squeezing the trigger.
When it was over, Michael said he'd imagined it all
differently. He thought he'd fire one shot, everyone would take off
running and he ''could run around and do stuff and take over the school.''
He also expected to return to school the next day,
and ''everyone would be nice to me then.''
Michael Carneal pleaded guilty but mentally ill on
October 5 in McCracken County Circuit Court to three counts of murder
and five counts of attempted murder. Facing at least 25 years in prison,
he will be sentenced on December 16.