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    Kentucky Department of Education review

    February 2009

    See the review in it's original form in Kentucky Teacher magazine on Page 9 at http://www.kde.state.ky.us/NR/rdonlyres/0A28EE35-C039-4BE0-BD42-3208784FD9E1/0/Feb09KyTw.pdf

    Reviewed by Susan Riddell

    Missy Jenkins Smith is a Day
    Treatment Center counselor for
    Calloway County schools. She has
    been married for several years to
    her college sweetheart and has a
    young son. By all accounts, she
    has a great life, despite the fact she
    spends most of her days in a wheelchair.

    After becoming one of the victims
    in the Heath High School
    (McCracken County) shooting
    more than 11 years ago, Smith also
    has become the face of the shooting.
    As the most severely- injured
    surviving student, she has taken
    on this role with her head held
    high and voice actively talking to
    others about her experiences.

    She became a celebrity nationwide,
    appearing on numerous
    talk shows and specials including
    “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and
    “Dateline.” Whenever there has
    been another high school shooting,
    she is regularly called by reporters
    wanting her reaction. She has
    participated in public-service
    announcements and several other
    noteworthy avenues to share her
    story. While so many hide from
    the microphone or the camera after
    going through a tragedy, Smith
    uses public appearances to help her
    heal, to force herself to deal with
    her emotions. Mainly, however,
    she tries to get the message across
    to others that violence is never the

    Missy Jenkins Smith writes
    about her experiences leading up
    to and following that ominous day,
    Dec. 1, 1997, in her book, “I Choose
    to be Happy: A School Shooting
    Survivor’s Triumph Over Tragedy.”
    This book serves as a strong
    reminder about how one act can
    touch the lives of so many and how
    it can force a nation to evaluate how
    schools have protected those who
    walk their halls.

    Smith’s actions following the
    shooting have served as a glimpse
    of hope and a wealth of knowledge
    about how schools can best protect
    teachers and students.

    This book could easily be added
    to preferred reading lists for all
    high school students. It’s a learning
    tool like most books in school.
    What makes this book ideal for
    high school students is that Smith
    writes in the voice of a student. She
    puts the reader in that hallway that
    morning, with raw, vivid details
    about who was standing where
    and what happened to those who
    couldn’t escape the bullets.

    With her unique voice of experience,
    students can learn from her
    story and understand that actions
    have consequences.

    Middle school students could
    benefit from this book, too. Her
    message is simple in that it’s easy
    to see the ramifications of bullying,
    even in the mildest of forms, even
    when the student getting picked
    on seems to take it in stride. Her
    message is also strong, however,
    in terms of overcoming obstacles
    and getting help for students if
    they feel like their only outlet is

    The best example of this in her
    book is a powerful 17-page transcript
    of an interview conducted
    just two hours after the shooting
    with shooter Michael Carneal, his
    attorney and a McCracken County
    police detective. Her book also has
    the capability of showing a student
    the future should someone
    decide to resort to violence. The
    book goes into great detail during
    Carneal’s sentencing with excerpts
    from victims, their family members,
    family members of those
    fatally wounded and the judge as
    he rendered the sentence: 20 years
    in prison for burglary, 20 years
    in prison each on five counts of
    attempted murder and three concurrent
    life sentences without the
    possibility of parole for 25 years
    for the murdered victims.

    Missy Jenkins Smith doesn’t hold
    back in her personal tale. After
    guiding you through the shooting,
    she discusses her lengthy stay in
    the hospital followed by her rehabilitation
    stint in Lexington’s Cardinal
    Hill Hospital. That’s when she
    faced the daunting task of learning
    to go about her life in a wheelchair.

    She discusses the good times and
    bad when she returned to Paducah,
    her first day back at Heath High
    School, dating and staying active
    in school, not to mention how she
    viewed things that once seemed so

    Smith doesn’t cut Carneal any
    slack, either. She forgives him,
    but holds him accountable for his
    actions that fateful day. That’s a
    fine line most people can never
    properly navigate.

    “Forgiveness does not
    exonerate a person from
    responsibility or punishment
    for what he or she
    did,” she writes. “It’s an
    acknowledgement that
    he or she did something
    wrong, that we realize we
    all make errors in judgment. …

    “Michael’s errors were ruthless,”
    she continues. “Nobody on
    earth expected me to forgive him
    for what he did – not even Michael.
    I had every right to be angry with
    him for the rest of my life. He
    robbed me of my ability to walk,
    murdered my friends, nearly killed
    my sister, and scarred so many
    people emotionally. He planned
    the crime and chose to commit the
    crime. He needed to face the consequences.
    Punishment was justified.
    But it didn’t mean I couldn't forgive him."