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Epinions.com (Houston, Texas) reviewDecember 28, 2008
Bryan_Carey's Full Review: William Croyle - I Choose to Be Happy: A School Shooting Survivor's Triumph Over Tragedy
Review originally posted at http://www.epinions.com/review/Book_I_Choose_to_Be_Happy_A_School_Shooting_Survivor_s_Triumph_over_Tragedy/content_455970492036
High school can be an eventful time in the lives of many and it can produce many lasting memories. Most of the memories are positive but for some, the experience of high school can include some forgettable moments. At the extremes, high school can even result in a fatal or near- death experience and this is exactly what happened to students who were the victims of school shootings in the 1990's. In this book, I Choose to Be Happy: A School Shooting Survivor's Triumph Over Tragedy, school shooting survivor Missy Jenkins reflects on the events that took place at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, on December 1, 1997.
Basic Contents of This Book:
This 241- page book is divided into 21 chapters with a foreword by Sarah Brady, wife of former White House Press Secretary James Brady who was shot and left paralyzed in 1981 during the assassination attempt on former president Ronald Reagan. The book outlines the details of the school shooting that took place at Heath High School on that fateful day. Missy Jenkins talks about the events of the day that led up to the moment of the shooting. She talks about meeting up with her friends before school actually began, as they had done so many times before, to join hands and say some morning prayers. Then, suddenly, she heard what sounded like firecrackers. Within moments, she fell to the floor. She couldn't feel her chest or legs, and was uncertain what had just happened. A few other people were lying on the floor while others made a mad dash for cover.
Missy was taken to a hospital where she quickly learned that she was paralyzed from the chest down. Three of her classmates were killed and four others were injured. Missy would later find out that there was no way to correct her paralysis. She would be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. But in spite of her condition and the bloodshed caused by assailant and classmate Michael Carneal, she forgave Michael immediately. She didn't hold any grudges and while she knew what he did was wrong in every conceivable way, she still had the strength to forgive. Missy Jenkins talks about her healing process, both physically and emotionally, in the fist several chapters of the book. She then talks about her life after the shooting; her graduation from high school; her attendance at Murray State University; and other life events.
One person who is still in the back of her mind is Michael Carneal, the guy responsible for the shooting. Michael sends Missy letters at one point, but then stops when Missy asks the authorities to bring the correspondence to a halt. Toward the end of the book, however, Missy has a change of heart and decides she would like to meet Michael and get some straight answers to important questions. Her encounter is detailed toward the end of the book, and it helps bring some closure to the life- shattering event from 1997.
Most of us have experienced life's ups and downs, and many among us have been involved in physical altercations at some point in our lives. But few among us have experienced a direct attack by an armed assailant and I think it's safe to say that the majority would want to seek revenge in some way. Financial reparations would be a nice start, but some would want to go further and make their attempted assailant suffer physically the same way that they are suffering. Forgiveness would be the last thing on our minds, and we certainly would not be willing to forgive a person who tried to take our life away shortly after the event took place.
However, in the case of Missy Jenkins, forgiveness was the first and most important step toward recovery and she discusses at length her decision to forgive and the long healing process that followed in the pages of I Choose to Be Happy. Nothing could be done to bring back the physical feelings in her lower body, and remaining angry would be emotionally draining and would not accomplish anything. Thus, for these reasons and many others- including her religious faith- Missy Jenkins forgave Michael Carneal for his crimes and set out to make the best of her life. She wasn't going to let her condition ruin her future. She felt that she had been given a second chance in life and set out to earn a degree in Social Work, counsel troubled youth, and live a life as close to normal as possible.
Missy spends a good deal of time talking about the events that led up to the shooting; the actual shooting event; and the long road to recovery. She also includes the actual police interrogation between Michael Carneal, his attorney Chuck Granner, and detective Carl Baker just two hours after the shooting. She reveals what she feels are the likely reasons that drove Michael over the edge and dispels other reasons that certain people in the media and elsewhere tried to say about the Michael's motives for stealing guns, taking them to school, and opening fire. Micheal was often teased and bullied as a kid, and this is apparently what led him to commit his crime. He didn't have any specific target in mind when he pulled out the guns and opened fire. Missy and the others just happened to be standing in the direct path of the bullets. Missy is also quick to point out that Michael's shooting had nothing to do with the fact that she and others were taking part in a prayer circle. Michael is not an atheist, as some tried to say back when this event took place, and was not out to kill students because they happened to be engaging in prayer. He just opened fire at random and Missy and the others had the misfortune of standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Missy Jenkins spends time talking about life events and some of the important changes that have taken place as a result of the shooting. Confined to a wheelchair, there are many things she cannot do, but the restrictions, in Missy's mind, are not as bad as many would believe. She is very optimistic about life and feels that what she went through must have been for a reason. Because of this life- changing event, she is now a youth counselor who helps young people sort out their problems and get the attention and care they need so that future events like the one at Heath High School do not take place again. Had she not been shot, she would likely have never chosen this career path. You have to admire her positive outlook on life. I don't think many people among us would be able to maintain such an optimistic attitude if we were forced to live through similar circumstances.
One of the most interesting parts of this book comes near the end when Missy plans a visit with Michael Carneal. Michael is still in prison and many precautions have to be in place. She is uncertain what to expect, but she has many nagging questions she wants to have answered. Her encounter with Michael- and Michael's attempts to gain early parole- are among the book's many highlights. These events provide some suspense to the story and they keep the reader turning the pages, wondering what Michael will say and what the final results of the meeting will accomplish.
Forgiveness isn't always easy. It isn't too difficult to forgive when the stakes are small and the damage is minimal. But to forgive someone who tried to kill you is another situation altogether and Missy Jenkins should be commended for her incredible courage and determination to make the best of an ugly situation. She has chosen to be happy, and with a husband and young son, her life is now complete and whole in spite of the awful event that took place at Heath High School on December 1, 1997.