Gunman paroled for 25 years after deadly school shooting in Kentucky

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Michael Carneal was 14 years old when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997 and he can now be released on parole.

Carneal killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the December 1997 shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, during a school prayer meeting. The shooting ended when Carneal put down his gun and the principal took him to the school office.

Now he is facing parole because his life sentence guaranteed a chance of parole after 25 years, the maximum sentence allowed for someone his age at the time.

Carneal, now, 39, will have a hearing this week.

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Michael Carneal was 14 years old when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997, and he can now be released on parole.

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One of the victims, Missy Jenkins Smith, has been tracking how much time Carneal has before being eligible for parole.

“Twenty-five years seemed so long, so far away,” she recalled when she received his conviction.

Jenkins Smith was 15 when Carneal, whom she considered a friend, shot her. She became paralyzed and uses a wheelchair to get around.

“I would think, ‘It’s been 10 years. How many more years?’ At the 20th anniversary commemoration, I thought, ‘It’s coming.'” she said.

She doesn’t think Carneal should be free. She’s concerned that he won’t be able to cope with life outside of prison and still cause harm to others, and she doesn’t think it’s right that he’s living a normal life after what he’s done.

“For him to have a shot at 39. People get married at 39. They have kids,” Jenkins Smith said. “It’s not good for him to live a normal life that the three girls he killed will never have.”

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The students killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

Carneal had killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the December 1997 shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, during a school prayer meeting.

Carneal had killed three Heath High School students and injured five others in the December 1997 shooting near Paducah, Kentucky, during a school prayer meeting.

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Jenkins Smith visited Carneal in prison in 2007 and apologized to her. She said she forgave him, but he still had to pay for his actions.

“A lot of people think that exempts him from consequences, but I don’t think so,” she said.

Carneal’s conditional hearing begins Monday with testimonies from the people injured in the shooting and close relatives of the dead. Jenkins Smith said she only knows one victim who believes that Carneal should be given some form of controlled release, which would be less restrictive than prison, but not unlimited freedom.

The students killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

The students killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

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The Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange will hear Carneal plead.

The conditional hearing will take place virtually via video call. Jenkins Smith said she will position her camera to show her entire body to show the probation board her wheelchair.

She said it will be “a reminder that anyone who experienced that impact 25 years ago will still be dealing with it, for the rest of their lives.”

The The New Zealand Times contributed to this report.

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