School shooter Michael Carneal, who killed 3 in 1997 rampage, denied parole

PADUCAH COUNTY, Ky. — The Kentucky Parole Board ordered the man responsible for the deadly 1997 shooting at Heath High School to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

>> Read more trending news

The panel’s members voted unanimously Monday to deny the release of 39-year-old Michael Carneal, WLKY reported.

Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman when he opened fire on a student-led prayer circle that met before school each morning, killing three fellow students and wounding five. He admitted to stealing the semi-automatic pistol that he used in the school massacre from a neighbor’s garage.

Carneal pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and burglary of the gun. He also testified at trial that he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and he was given the maximum sentence for someone his age at the time: life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

A two-person panel of the parole board considered his case last week but could not reach a unanimous decision, sending the case to the full board meeting on Monday.

According to The Courier-Journal, the panel’s formal serve-out ruling means that Carneal will never be considered for parole again.

“After deliberating, Mr. Carneal, due to the seriousness of your crime ... your crime involved a weapon. You had lives taken, and the seriousness again, it is the decision of the parole board today to allow you to serve out the remainder of your sentence,” the parole board moderator stated during Monday’s virtual hearing, according to WLKY.

Carneal replied, “Yes, Ma’am,” after hearing the decision.

In a statement, the parole board said its decision was made “in compliance with Kentucky law and in an effort to maintain a delicate balance between public safety, victim rights, reintegration of the offender and recidivism,” The Courier-Journal reported.

When asked during last week’s hearing if he felt he deserved parole, Carneal replied, “I don’t know, honestly. It depends on when you ask. Sometimes I think I should be killed,” WLKY reported, adding that he said he believes he has the potential to “do good” if released.

Carneal also told the board members that he still hears voices – like the ones he said told him to open fire on Dec. 1, 1997 – but that he no longer acts on them, The Courier-Journal reported.

“It’s not going to make it better, but I want them to know that I am sorry for what I did,” Carneal said.

According to the newspaper, the Heath High School rampage predated the massacre at Columbine High School by about 17 months and is considered one of the first mass school shootings in U.S. history. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others in the Columbine shooting.

Carneal is also believed to be one of the first school shooters to come up for parole; the rest having died in their attacks or having been sentenced to life at their respective trials, The Courier-Journal reported.

According to the newspaper, Carneal killed 15-year-old Kayce Steger, 14-year-old Nicole Hadley and 17-year-old Jessica James. He also injured Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed from the chest down, as well as Hollan Holm, Shelly Schaberg, Kelly Hard Alsip and Craig Keene.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.