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Hancock Clarion (Ky.) articleDec. 3, 2009
Newspaper article in the Hancock Clarion (Ky.) newspaper. For the article in it's original form, visit www.hancockclarion.com/articles/m3o.htm
Victim says bullying was cause of Heath shooting
By Ralph Dickerson
On Wednesday morning, Melissa Smith addressed the student body of Hancock
County Middle School, and talked about the topic of bullying. Melissa, now
27, knows first hand the effects on a person from bullying.
On December 1, 1997 her life changed forever. A 15-year-old Sophomore at
Heath High School in Paducah at the time, she and around 30 other students
just finished their prayer circle. The students met in the school's lobby
every morning prior to school starting, talked with each other and prayed.
The assembly broke up, and Melissa started walking away. She went only a few
steps when the unthinkable happened. She started hearing what sounded like
firecrackers going off in the lobby. At first, she thought someone decided
to pull a prank and set off some fireworks in the school.
As she continued to look around the lobby, her disbelief turned to horror. A
14-year-old boy named Michael Carneal pulled a .22 caliber handgun out of a
backpack and started shooting at students.
"The first thing I saw was a girl getting shot in the head and falling to
the ground," Melissa said.
At the time, Melissa thought the girl, named Nicole, participated in a prank
and just fell down. Melissa kept thinking she would get up. Melissa
continued to look around the lobby, trying to figure out the situation.
"I could hear the gunshots," Melissa said. "I remember hearing three slow
Shortly afterwards, Carneal started firing rapidly. During this spray of
bullets, one struck Melissa in the left shoulder. Her body immediately went
numb, and she fell to the ground. Her twin sister crawled over to Melissa,
and used her body as a shield to protect Melissa.
The shooting left three people dead, and five wounded, with Melissa being
the most seriously injured of the wounded. The bullet smashed her spinal
cord, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.
Only later did Melissa learn the identity of the shooter. It came as a
"He was a friend that I hung out with in school," Melissa said. "I liked
him, and I always wanted to get on the same bus as him because I knew he
would make the bus ride fun."
What made her friend, a person she described as a "class clown," bring a gun
to school and murder three people? A simple reason: his classmates bullied
Carneal terribly every day.
Melissa provided an example of the bullying. One day, as Carneal sat eating
donuts in the school hallway, a classmate came up to Carneal and asked for a
donut. He handed the package to the classmate, who proceeded to crush the
donuts with his hand, spit in them and throw them in his face. Melissa said
other classmates often said mean and hurtful things to Carneal.
Melissa said she envied Carneal because he acted like it did not bother him.
She said it appeared like he just shook it off. No one knew how much it hurt
him until that fateful day 12 years ago.
"At this age, in middle school and high school, you do not understand the
power of words, and what it can do to people," Melissa said.
What makes this story even sadder is that Carneal left clues, but no one
took him seriously. Melissa said for some time prior to the shooting,
Carneal kept telling people that "something big" was going to happen. Two
weeks prior to the shooting, Carneal actually pulled the handgun on students
in the band room, but they just shrugged it off.
No one reported these incidents to authorities or school officials. No one
took Carneal seriously.
Since this incident, Melissa made it her life's mission to talk to young
kids about bullying, and how to cope with being bullied.
"I want kids to understand the importance of not bullying each other,"
Melissa said. "You have to realize it is not right to treat each other this
She said if incidents of bullying occur, do not be a bystander. Watching
someone bully another person actually encourages the bully to keep acting.
It tells him or her that you consider the bullying interesting. She said
walk away. More importantly, try to intervene and get the person being
bullied out of the situation.
If a victim of bullying, Melissa said to not hold it inside. Tell a trusted
adult or friend. Being bullied is not normal behavior, and needs to be
"I want you to understand the importance of telling (when being bullied) and
how important it is to not hold it inside and not tell anybody," Melissa
said. "A lot of kids think it will not be a big deal."
Finally, take bullying seriously. Do not think of it as just harmless fun.
It does hurt, and people react to hurt in different ways. Melissa wants kids
to realize what happened in Heath could happen anywhere in the country.
At that age, Melissa felt invincible, and thought nothing would happen to
"I thought I was somebody who was going to be okay, and nothing would ever
happen to me," Melissa said. "Something did."
Though the incident changed Melissa's life, she did not let it defeat her.
She graduated from high school, graduated from Murray State University with
a degree in social work and married. Two years ago, her son Logan was born,
and she found out a few weeks ago she is pregnant with another son.