Today, it seems that at least once a month there is a story in the news regarding a shooting at a school or college campus. When the incident happens, the suspect is usually of an age where there is no issue of the accused to be indicted as an adult. Sadly, there are times when a student either brings a gun to a school for show or to fire it at people but the suspect is not an adult. The severity of the event usually determines if the accused should be tried as a youth offender or an adult, in which case any sentencing would become harsher.
One example of this occurred at Heath High School located in West Paducah, Kentucky as fourteen-year-old student Michael Carneal is indicted as an adult on December 12th, 1997 on the charges of three counts of murder as well as five counts of attempting to murder. Michael pulled out a gun on December 1st and fired 11 times in the school’s lobby at a group of students.
When looking closely at Michael Carneal, he came from a good family and appeared on the surface to be your average teenager. He was considered to be in the middle in regards to he was not a social outcast nor very popular. His older sister, Kelly drove him to school on December 1st in which Michael was said to tell his sister that the bundle that was blanketed on his lap was a prop to be used in a school project; actually, underneath was two shotguns and two rifles. Adding to his arsenal was a .22-caliber gun and all of his weapons had been taken several weeks earlier from the garage of a neighbor.
Arriving at school, Michael walked in the direction of school prayer meeting before classes that had just ended. Carneal proceeded to put in his ears earplugs, loaded his .22-caliber pistol and methodically fired upon eight students 10 feet away from him. During the carnage, a fellow student named Ben Strong persuaded Michael to let go of his gun and restrained him until the principal of the school escorted Carneal away.
Carneal began to cry and asked authorities to terminate him when asked what his motivation for his deadly rampage was. Later on, Carneal said the movie The Basketball Diaries that starred Leonardo DiCaprio was his inspiration. For their supposed role in the tragedy, families of those shot submitted a lawsuit for $130 million against the 21 entertainment companies associated with the film; included in those being sued were the creators of the video games Doom and Quake. Michael was educated on how to fire accurately from using these games according to those that were suing them.
Michael’s young age voided him from the death penalty even though indicted as an adult. Carneal pleaded guilty due to mental illness and received a life in prison sentence although in 25 years he would be eligible for parole. Remarkably, the Paducah community showed kindness to Michael’s family during this time of tragedy as they offered their condolences as well as Kelly being welcomed back to school after the shooting event.