PADUCA, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky man who killed three students and wounded five more in a school shooting a quarter-century ago has a parole opportunity this week.
Michael Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman in 1997 when he fired a stolen handgun at a before-school prayer group in the lobby of Heath High School near Paducah, Kentucky. He received life in prison with a chance for parole after 25 years, the maximum allowed at the time for someone his age.
In one of the few interviews he has given since then, he told the Kentucky Courier Journal in 2002: “I perceived my life as miserable. Nobody loved me and nobody cared.”
Carneal then said that he was sorry for what he had done and acknowledged that at that moment he was only thinking about himself, not about the people he would hurt and kill. He said there was no simple answer as to why he lashed out, but that he was suffering from delusions and paranoia at the time. He said that the therapy and medication he received in prison had stabilized his mental health. “It sounds weird to say, but I’m not really a violent person,” he added.
Carneal, now 39, did not respond to a recent written request for an interview from The Associated Press.
Carneal’s parole hearing is scheduled to begin Monday with testimony from those injured in the shooting and close family members of those killed. On Tuesday, Carneal will present his case for release from the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange. If the board rules against him, they can decide how long Carneal must wait before his next chance to apply for parole.
The shooting killed Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15. The injured include Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. She met Carneal in prison in 2007 and had a long conversation with him. He apologized to her and she said that he had forgiven him.
“A lot of people think that that exonerates him from the consequences, but I don’t think so,” he said, adding that he opposes his release from prison. She worries that he is not equipped to handle life outside of prison and may still harm others. She also doesn’t think it’s right for him to go free when the people she hurt are still hurting.
Commonwealth Attorney Daniel Boaz, the lead prosecutor for the area that includes Paducah, wrote a letter to the Kentucky Parole Board on September 9 opposing Carneal’s release.
“I experienced and witnessed the immediate effects of Michael Carneal’s actions on December 1, 1997 and have dealt with the effects of his actions ever since,” Boaz wrote.
The families of the murdered children suffered a “loss too great for words,” he wrote. While imprisoning Carneal for the rest of her life “may seem like a harsh punishment, it’s just a pittance compared to what these families go through.”