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Shelby County (Ky.) Schools articleNov. 23, 2009
Shooting Survivor Impresses Students
To read the article in its original format, visit www.shelby.kyschools.us/images/PDF/missy.pdf
"Shooting survivor impresses students"
West Middle sixth- and seventh-graders were
cheering, clapping and stomping their feet Friday…for Missy Jenkins Smith who gave them advice along with inspiration as she shared how a classmate came to school on December 1, 1997 with a .22 automatic and ended up killing three students and shooting five. She was among those five and remains in a wheelchair as a result. Yet she graduated from high school and college, got
married, has had one son and is expecting a second. She epitomizes the title of the book she authored, “I Choose to be Happy.”
Missy was 15 and a sophomore at Heath High
School in Paducah. December 1 was the first day following Thanksgiving Break so she was anxious to get to school and reconnect with friends. The first item of the day was a routine – a prayer circle before classes began. Someone yelled “Time to pray” so they gathered and after the “Amen” she remembers hearing what sounded like firecrackers
and watched as a classmate crumbled to the ground.
“I thought it was a joke. There were three small pops,” she told the West Middle assembly. “Then I realized it was gunshots because there was a spray of bullets.”
One hit her. Her body went numb. “I felt as if I were floating to the ground,” she said. “I didn’t hurt anywhere.”
Her twin sister crawled to her side while the
shooting continued. The two tried to make sense of what was happening. “My sister looked like a child lost in a department store so I kept telling her I was okay,” Missy said, telling her sister to go to the gym with the rest of the students. En route there, the twin called home to share the unbelievable news.
As Missy began to replay the day’s events from that moment on at West Middle, her father kept his head down while her mother looked straight ahead with a fixed smile of pride. Twelve years earlier, they had
been faced, along with other parents, with “mass chaos, not knowing where I was since there are two hospitals in Paducah.”
The diagnosis at the hospital was that a bullet went through her lung, the spinal cord and out her back.
“It was confirmed I would be paralyzed for the rest of her life,” she said. “Yet, I was alive. It was like that bullet was guided through me, missing every major organ.”
That wasn’t the case with three classmates:
-A freshman who played basketball. Her parents donated her organs and the man who received her heart later visited Missy in the rehabilitation center.
-A senior who was shot the same as Missy, yet died from internal bleeding.
-A friend who shared the ambulance ride to the hospital with Missy. The consistent efforts of CPR did not help.
The other four were injured in the head, shoulder, and two in the neck.
The student behind these deaths and injuries was 14-year-old Michael Carneal who Missy said “was classified as the class clown. Some didn’t like his humor, though, and made fun of him. He acted like it didn’t bother him but no one knew how he was really handling it. Bullying had affected him in a
He broke into a neighbor’s garage and brought a blanket full of guns to school. He only used the .22 during the shooting spree, which was on the heels of a similar incident in Pearl River, Miss. “Michael made the wrong choice of bringing guns to school
in an attempt to gain people’s respect,” she told West Middle students. “He should have told a trusted adult (about being bullied) and not held everything inside.”
Incidents of bullying about which Missy knew
included a school newspaper item that labeled
Michael as gay and a hallway encounter with
another student who spit doughnut crumbs all over him while others laughed.
Michael made claims about shooting people with other students but none took him seriously. One of those students called Missy eight years after the incident to apologize for not telling someone. “It
wasn’t his fault. We didn’t know the importance of telling then. I do now.
“If he had shared with someone what Michael was bragging about, I would be walking. My friends would not be dead. My community would not have had to go through such an ordeal.”
Her own ordeal involved learning to live a life in a wheelchair. “I felt like a two-year-old, learning to sit up again and taking 45 minutes to get dressed,”
she shared with the students.
Yet when the trial date came December 16, 1998, Missy asked Michael to face her as she shared embarrassing personal items she must now endure as the result of being paralyzed and shared all what she could miss out on because of him. “Then I forgave him because being angry would not change anything. I didn’t let him off; I let myself off,” she
That positive attitude put her in braces to dance at her senior prom, walk across the stage to receive her high school diploma, and say her wedding vows to Josh Smith June 24, 2006.
Prior to her son’s birth September 3, 2007, Missy visited Michael in the penitentiary in LaGrange. She described it as “meeting face-to-face with someone I knew as a friend, yet who had attempted to murder me.” They talked for more than two hours, after which he said he was sorry. “That’s the closest to
closure I am going to get,” she said.
However, she left the students with five things this experience has taught her:
-Bullying affects people – treat others with
-If you see someone being bullied, stop it.
-Tell an adult if you hear someone making threats.
-At 15, you are not invincible.
-When you’re given a second chance at life, there’s a purpose.
Her website link is: http://www.missyjenkins.com/
By Duanne B. Puckett,
Community Relations Coordinator