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Gunman paroled 25 years after fatal Kentucky school shooting

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Michael Carneal was 14 years old when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997 and is now on probation.

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

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

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

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Michael Carneal was 14 when he opened fire on his high school classmates in Kentucky in 1997, and he is now on probation.

One of the victims, Missy Jenkins Smith, keeps track of how long Carneal has before she is eligible for parole.

“Twenty-five years seemed so long, so far away,” he remembers thinking at the time of his sentencing.

Jenkins Smith was 15 years old when Carneal, whom he considered a friend, shot him. She was paralyzed and uses a wheelchair to get around.

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

She doesn’t think Carneal should be free. She worries that he can’t handle life outside of prison and may still harm others, and she doesn’t think it’s right for him to have a normal life after what he did.

“Let him have a chance at 39. People get married at 39. They have kids,” Jenkins Smith said. “It’s not right that he has a chance to have a normal life that those three girls he killed will never have.”

The students who died in the shooting were Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15.

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

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

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Jenkins Smith attended Carneal in prison in 2007 and apologized to her. She said that she forgave him, but that she should still pay for her actions.

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

Carneal’s parole hearing is scheduled to begin Monday with testimony from those injured in the shooting and close family members of those killed. Jenkins Smith said he knows of only one victim who believes Carneal should be given some form of supervised release, which would be less restrictive than prison but not unrestricted release.

The students who died in the shooting were Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15.

The students who died in the shooting were Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15.

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The Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange will hear Carneal present his case.

The parole hearing will take place virtually via video call. Jenkins Smith said she will position the camera on her so that her full body can be seen to show the parole board her wheelchair.

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

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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