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    Murray State News (Murray, Ky.) article

    October 2, 2008
    To view the article in the original newspaper format, visit http://media.collegepublisher.com/media/paper651/documents/4vrtg09o.pdf

    Jess Nall
    Staff writer

    On Dec. 1, 1997, about 30 students gathered in
    the lobby of Paducah, Ky.,’s Heath High School,
    hand-in-hand, to pray for fellow classmates,
    friends, family members and those unspoken.
    After an “Amen” said in unison, 14-year-old
    Michael Carneal walked through the doors of
    the school, pulled a .22 pistol out of his backpack
    and fired at the prayer circle.
    Three teenage girls were killed and five others
    were injured. Of the eight victims, Murray
    State alumna Missy Jenkins Smith is the survivor
    who sustained the most serious injuries.
    The gunshot wound left her paralyzed from the
    chest down.
    In the 11 years since the shooting, Smith said
    she has forgiven, shared her experiences and
    confronted her shooter face-to-face.
    With help from newspaper reporter William
    Croyle, Smith co-authored the book, “I Choose
    to be Happy: A School Shooting Survivor’s Triumph
    Over Tragedy.” The book was released
    “The book begins with the shooting itself,
    then my life growing up,” Smith said. “Next is a
    chapter called Why’ It is a section about
    Carneal’s interrogation and it reveals what he
    was thinking when he pulled the trigger. A lot
    of the book is about my recovery process:
    Learning to live in a wheelchair, being in the
    hospital and traveling to California for my
    Some excerpts from her book give an inside
    look into Carneal’s actions after he confessed
    and was sentenced to life in prison. Smith said
    he wrote her letters during her senior year of
    high school, detailing his day-to-day life in confinement.
    “Some were apologetic and others would
    simply tell me what he was doing in jail, some
    would say he thought about killing himself,”
    Smith said. “He wanted me to respond to him,
    but I chose not to write. I felt like he wanted me
    to help him through his emotions, but I was trying
    to focus on my own healing.”
    Smith said during her five-month stay in the
    hospital, she was able to forgive Carneal for
    what he had done.
    “Forgiveness is the way I chose to get past
    this ... it was for me, not for him,” Smith said. “I
    just wanted to worry about getting better, not
    holding a grudge.”
    After she regained her strength and learned
    to use her wheelchair, Smith was able to attend
    her high school prom and graduation. She then
    enrolled in Murray State in the fall of 2000. In
    2004 she graduated with a degree in social
    work and is now working as a counselor at Calloway
    County Day Treatment Center.
    Smith and her husband met at Murray State
    and were married in June 2006. Shortly after,
    William Croyle contacted Smith about the possibility
    of writing a book.
    “I had always wanted to do it but I wasn’t a
    writer, so I never thought I could do it by
    myself,” Smith said. “William was someone I
    could trust; he had seen me on the show ‘Montel’
    and had read news clips about me and was
    interested in my story and thought it should be
    While writing the book, Smith said she had to
    relive some of the most terrifying moments in
    her life, every last detail of how she felt when
    the shooting was taking place and her emotional
    state when she visited Carneal in the Kentucky
    State Reformatory last year.
    Smith said reliving some of those tough
    moments acted as therapy.
    “I feel like talking about it was my therapy
    and I would recommend that anyone going
    through trauma should talk about it,” Smith
    said. “It helped me get through a lot of things.”
    Speaking about her experiences to high
    school students around the country also helped
    Smith heal, and she said she hopes it will prevent
    future tragedies.
    “It has been my mission to stop this from
    happening to another person,” she said. “One
    thing that Michael Carneal did say in his interrogation
    was that he brought the gun to school
    for respect; he wanted people to fear him, know
    that he had some kind of power so they wouldn’t
    want to mess with him anymore. I want people
    to realize how much bullying affects people
    and what a powerful and destructive thing it
    can be in someone’s life.”
    Since the shooting and her self-discovery
    while writing the book, Smith said she has
    learned five very important things.
    “One, the power of forgiveness,” Smith said.
    “It doesn’t mean you are saying what they did
    is OK but, you have to be able to forgive for
    yourself. Two, I learned about bullying and
    how much of an impact it can have on someone’s
    I learned the importance of telling people
    when there is a threat. (Carneal) had warned
    people for two weeks that something ‘big’ was
    going to happen. He even pulled a gun on two
    boys, but no one took him seriously. I learned
    at 15 that I wasn’t invincible. Finally, I realized
    I could do so much in a wheelchair. When I was
    injured, I had never known anyone in a wheelchair
    so I didn’t know about all the opportunities.”
    Smith will have a book signing at the
    Nashville, Tenn., Capitol Building on Oct. 11
    for the Southern Festival of Books, and in
    Frankfort on Nov. 15 for the Kentucky Book
    She said she will continue traveling and
    speaking at local high schools, sharing what she
    has learned and hopefully prevent future
    school shootings.
    Jess Nall can be reached at jessica.nall@