Michael Carneal school shooting victim shares relief as he’s denied parole: ‘We won’t have to worry’

Missy Jenkins Smith speaks to The Independent after Michael Carneal was ordered to serve out the remainder of his life sentence

Sheila Flynn
Monday 26 September 2022 19:33 BST

A woman paralysed from the chest down in a 1997 school shooting has shared relief that a parole board decided to keep her attacker in prison for the rest of his life.

Missy Jenkins Smith, 40, watched on Monday as all members of the Kentucky State Parole Board voted that Michael Carneal, 39, serve out the remainder of his sentence – life.

She told The Independent that now she and other victims will no longer “have to worry about anything regarding him attempting to get” out of prison again.

Carneal had even tried to contact Missy after paralysing her, injuring five others and taking the lives of Nicole Hadley, 14; Jessica James, 17; and Kayce Steger, 15 at Heath High School on 1 December 1997.

The Hadleys testified before two members of the board on 19 September, as did Missy and injured student Hollan Holm, he was the only person not against parole.

Carneal himself testified the following day. Missy was not impressed.

“I thought that he’d be a lot more prepared than he was,” she told The Independent. “I was very surprised ... it was like no self accountability. It was like letting everyone else do it for him. When he was asked about a plan, it was like, oh, my parents.”

The board chairperson pointed out that Carneal had not written his own letter to the board to make his case.

“I had so many theories kind of in my head, like, what’s his agenda? Is he really not wanting to get out?” Missy told The Independent following his testimony. “Is he really oblivious ... that he had to do this? You know, what’s going on here?

“He’s been taken care of for so long,” she said, adding: “Even after 25 years ... was he even preparing for it? He has obviously not.”

Missy Jenkins Smith is a married Kentucky mother of two - who was paralyzed from the chest down in a 1997 high school shooting
Missy Jenkins Smith is a married Kentucky mother of two - who was paralyzed from the chest down in a 1997 high school shooting (Missy Jenkins Smith)

Carneal on 20 September told the board that his sister and parents, with whom he would initially live upon any release, were supportive and had promised to take him to any doctor appointments. He said that he was on three psych meds and would continue care on the outside if released.

“I think I can do a lot of good out there,” said Carneal, adding that he would be satisfied with a job in fast food or sanitation or anything, really. “I think I could beenfit the community. I think I could benefit people as a whole.”

One of his victims, Hollan Holm, who was shot in the head by Carneal and still bears the scar on his hairline, argued on 19 September for his attacker’s release.

“I was still a child,” said Mr Holm, who was 14 at the time of the shooting and will turn 40 in December. “Everyone in the lobby of Heath High School that day, including Michael Carneal, was a child. It’s taken me 25 years to fully appreciate how little I knew on that day – how much of life I had not lived and how far from adult I was in my thinking and my capacity.”

Carneal told the board he felt responsible for the plague of mass shootings that followed his actions; while he was not the first school shooter, Columbine followed shortly afterwards - in 1999 - and anchored the crimes as a national horror. Carneal said he became suicidal and was hospitalized when he heard the news.

He also apologised for his killing spree, saying he felt people viewed him as “a monster.”

“It makes me feel terrible that I hurt anybody - my friends or not my friends,” he said. “I’m sorry for what I did. I know it’s not going to change anything; it’s not going to make anything better. But I want them to know that I am sorry for what I did.”

After the two members of the parole board could not reach a decision last week, it was pushed to Monday, when the full board unanimously voted that he will never get out.

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