Years later, Kentucky school shooter still can't explain crimes

The Associated Press

LAGRANGE, Ky. (September 13, 2002 11:17 a.m. EDT) - Almost five years after gunning down three classmates gathered for a prayer circle, Michael Carneal still can't explain one thing: Why?

"People want one simple answer - I can't give it," he told The Courier-Journal of Louisville in an interview at the Kentucky State Reformatory, where he is serving a life sentence.

Three girls were killed and five others hurt when the then-14-year-old pulled a stolen .22-caliber pistol out of his backpack on Dec. 1, 1997, and began firing at the lobby of Heath High School, near Paducah, Ky.

Now 19, Carneal blamed himself for subsequent school shootings around the country, especially the April 1999 attack at Columbine High School that left 13 people dead. He said he felt so guilty that he attempted suicide several times.

"I thought if I killed myself, I would make the world a better place," he said in Thursday's Courier-Journal. Later, he said, he realized "I can't change anything that happened, by dying or anything else; I wish I could change things, but I can't."

Back then, Carneal said, he believed his parents didn't love him, and that he was constantly taunted by other students, including some who he said falsely claimed he was gay.

"I realize now that it was just what adolescents do - pick on each other and joke around," he said. "But I still think I got a little more of it than most kids."

One thing that did not influence him, he said, is video games or violent movies.

The families of the slain girls filed a $33 million lawsuit blaming entertainment companies for the shootings. Last month, a federal appeals court panel unanimously affirmed the dismissal of the case, saying the companies couldn't have known that somebody would commit such a crime after viewing their products.

Carneal said the video games he played were no more violent than the articles on the front page of a newspaper; he said he only watched a portion of the movie "The Basketball Diaries," in which a drug addict dreams of shooting students who had laughed at him when he was paddled by a teacher.

"It was just another movie," he said. "It really didn't stick with me."

Judy James, Jessica's mother, told the newspaper "it's a little too late for apologies."

James, whose daughter was 17, said that despite Carneal's age, "he was well aware of what he was doing."

Carneal, who is eligible for parole in 2022, said group therapy and medication have controlled the delusions and paranoia he said he once suffered.

"People like to judge me by the one incident," he said. "I really believe more in talking things out."