A school shooter who killed three Kentucky rich kids and injured five others in 1997 said Tuesday at his parole hearing that he still hears voices telling him to harm himself and others and does not “pay attention” to his mental health diagnoses.
Michael Carneal, 39, walked into his high school 25 years ago on the first Monday in December and opened fire in the lobby, hitting a prayer group that included people he considered his friends. He’s been serving a life sentence ever since, but is one of the few school shooters to receive a parole hearing.
Carneal has appealed his sentence several times unsuccessfully. On Monday, the day ahead of his testimony before the parole board, victims and relatives gave their own accounts of how his actions had affected them. All but one argued for his continued incarceration.
The parole board received letters and a plan of care from Carneal’s legal counsel and family, but nothing from the inmate himself. When asked why on Tuesday, he said he thought everything had been covered in the information sent by others.
Kentucky Parole Board Chairperson Ladeidra N. Jones pointed out that his mental health prognosis remained “poor” after decades of treatment and that he continued to experience “paranoid thoughts with violent visual imagery.”
Carneal admitted this and told the board he also still hears voices but has learned to control his actions and seek help. He appeared nervous and fidgety during the hour-long interview with Ms Jones and her fellow board member Larry Brock.
“I know now that it’s not something that I should do, and I’m able to not do it and rationalize that it’s not something that I should do – and what I’m hearing is not real,” he said.
Even at 14, Carneal said he knew right from wrong but blamed the massacre on a “combination of factors.”
“I was hearing things, and I was extremely hyper suspicious,” he told the board. “And I had felt for years, feeling alienated and different, and I think that when I startd to develop mental health problems, that it fed into that – and it kind of … it made my mental health problems worse, that I spent those years feeling like that.
“And it got to the point where I was hearing things in my mind, to do certain things, and I was doing them. I wasn’t strong enough or I wasn’t thinking properly enough to evaluate what i was being told to do, and I just found myself doing them.”
He told the board: “I was 14 at the time, and I had not experienced anything in life, really. I didn’t know exactly the effect of what I would do.”
Carneal fatally shot Nicole Hadley, 14; Jessica James, 17; and Kayce Steger, 15. He injured five others, including Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed from the chest down and gave video testimony on Monday.
She considered Carneal to be a friend and knew him reasonably well, though she told the board that he should remain in prison.
“I want you to consider how long it’s been that he’s been taken care of by others,” Missy, now a married mother of two, told the board. “From the age of 14 years old to his present age of 39, he hasn’t had the responsibility to take care of himself and has been cared for for the past 25 years.
“How could anyone say with confidence he could do that for the rest of his life?” she asked, adding: “What if stressors in this new world begin to weigh on him – having trouble finding a job after jail time for murder or attempted murder, running into people who know who he is and what he did? How sure are we that he’d be able to handle this new world that’s changed around him? What if these problems affect him so much emotionally that he chooses not to take his medication? What if it affects him emotionally enough that his medications aren’t helping anymore?
“There are too many ‘What ifs” – to assume that he would be responsible enough to take care of himself and to not let his mental illness cause him to harm anyone again? Continuing his life in prison is the only way his victims can feel comfortable and safe without being haunted,” she went on.
Carneal on Tuesday 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 Monday 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 on Tuesday said 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 to the board 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 Tuesday. “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.”
Following his testimony, Ms Jones and Mr Brock retired to discuss and decide but were unable to reach a unanimous decision on Carneal’s parole. The full Kentucky state parole board will now consider his case on Monday.