PADUCAH, Ky. (WKRN) — A school shooting survivor shared her story of one of the first mass school shootings in the country.
Missy Jenkins Smith is paralyzed from the chest down. She was shot in the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Paducah, Kentucky.
Missy said her memory of that day is sharp because she is reminded of it every single day as she can’t walk and therefore function regularly as most others do.
Missy was 15, a sophomore at Heath High School, one of eight students shot that December morning in 1997 following a prayer circle. Three of her friends didn’t survive.
Missy said after saying “amen” she heard what she thought were firecrackers, thinking there was a prank.
“It was three slow pops and a spray of bullets and I was hit in the spray and I didn’t even know I was shot when I was, because I didn’t even feel it hit me. It was almost like my entire body went numb almost like fainting is kind of like how I can describe it because my entire body went numb, my hearing ringing in my ears and I remember falling down to the ground but it was like I was floating,” she explained.
The bullet went through Missy’s left shoulder, missing every major artery and organ in her body except her lung, she said.
A 14-year-old freshman Michael Carneal, a friend of hers, fired the shots. Later, the shooter said he was bullied and that there were voices that told him to go on a rampage, Missy explained.
She said seeing the shooting in Texas is haunting, that some 25 years after her incident nothing has been done. She thought at the time that what happened in Paducah, and to the victims of a school shooting in Mississippi just months before that, were anomalies. Jonesboro, Columbine, Virginia Tech and countless other school and public venue shootings have proven her wrong.
Missy said it’s an important conversation to have, that students need to speak up if they see something peculiar and that she would like schools to get more funding for security measures — like metal detectors and school resource officers. She added that mental health is a major issue that also needs to be addressed.
Missy forgave the shooter that day and has remained positive since the tragedy, although her life has forever been altered. She now shares her stories at schools across the country and wrote a book, “I Choose to Be Happy: A School Shooting Survivor’s Triumph Over Tragedy.”
“I was just blessed to be alive and I could have been one of the three and that even though I was in a wheelchair and I couldn’t walk at that point, I was going to get a chance to have and live life even if it was from a wheelchair that three other girls weren’t going to get to have and so I think that’s how I was able to take everything and make it a positive thing because I had to keep reminding myself what I had and what it could have been,” she stated.
Carneal has a parole hearing later this year, but Missy hopes he stays behind bars.