Survivors share their stories on 25th anniversary of Heath High School shooting

WATCH | Survivors share their stories on 25th anniversay of wky Heath High School shooting
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 11:10 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 11:55 PM EST
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PADUCAH, Ky. (WKYT) - Twenty-five years ago, families in Paducah were mourning and in disbelief after a student at Heath High School opened fire on a prayer meeting outside of the school, killing three students.

Michael Carneal was 14 at the time of the shooting. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He was denied parole in September.

Survivors are remembering this day by spreading a positive message.

In the 25 years since, students who survived that day continue to share their stories and react each time another school is the setting for gun violence.

Missy Jenkins Smith was paralyzed in the shooting at Heath High School. She spoke at Carneal’s parole hearing.

“Also on December 1, 1997, Michael sentenced me to life in a wheelchair without the possibility of parole, ever,” Jenkins Smith said at the hearing.

For two days, survivors and families of victims shared their testimony to keep Carneal in prison.

“I believe that Michael knew what he was doing the day of the shooting,” Christina Hadley Ellegood, sister of victim Nicole Hadley, said. “He brought five guns with him, enough ammo to shoot everyone in the school twice, and had three pairs of earplugs.”

The families and survivors continue to push for change and legislation to protect other communities from facing the heartache and pain they continue to process daily.

Randy Wright still thinks about that day. He remembers driving Nicole Hadley’s family to the hospital after learning their daughter had been shot.

“I was doing 115 miles an hour by the airport. Trying to get that poor mother in the back seat to where her kid was,” Wright said.

“You can’t help but have kind of a flashback,” Wright said. “You ask the television set as they’re interviewing the people... You’re looking at the ones that are in charge and saying, ‘did y’all not pay any attention to our shooting?’”

“In light of all the recent shootings that keep happening, I would just add a message for other survivors to not lose hope,” Brittney Thomas said. “It does get better, and healing is possible.”

Thomas has spoken often about the shooting she survived. She encourages survivors of gun violence to seek resources to help them recover from the trauma. You can find those resources here, and here.

Carneal was denied parole, and will spend the rest of his life in prison.