20 years later: Heath High School shooting victim continues to inspire

FULL INTERVIEW: Missy Jenkins Smith tells her story
Updated: Nov. 21, 2017 at 1:30 PM CST
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Source: KFVS
Source: KFVS
Source: KFVS
Source: KFVS

WEST PADUCAH, KY (KFVS) - December 1 marks the 20th anniversary of the Heath High School shooting in West Paducah that left three dead and five injured.

The violence was a wake-up call to schools not only here in the Heartland, but across the nation.

One of the victim's of that shooting will never be the same.

However, Missy Jenkins Smith refuses to let her injury define her, or stop her from making a difference.

"Twenty years doesn't make any sense to me because it feels like yesterday," said Missy Jenkins Smith.

On December 1, 1997, Missy Jenkins Smith was a 15-year-old sophomore at Heath High School.

"Nothing that morning seemed out of the ordinary than it usually did," said Missy.

She gathered with a prayer circle that morning.

It ended, then moments later the unthinkable happened.

"I was on my way to get to get my backpack and go to my first class," said Missy. "Once I got halfway there I heard the first shot and saw someone get shot. I couldn't understand what I was looking at."

Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal walked into the lobby, pulled a gun out of his backpack and started shooting.

"It was like three slow pops then there was a spray and I was shot and fell to the ground," said Missy.

Three young ladies lost their lives.

Five others were hurt, including Missy.

Her twin sister ran to her side.

"I was probably bleeding internally a lot and it scared us both because the first thing I noticed was I couldn't feel my stomach," said Missy.

Missy was rushed to the hospital where she learned what she already feared, she was paralyzed from the chest down.

Her response was anything but what you would expect.

"I was ok with it because I was getting a second chance at life," said Missy.

After a long recovery, she went back to school. She then graduated from college and got married.

"I'm blessed to have what I have and I don't want my life to be angry," said Missy.

Missy said she made the decision early on to forgive the shooter.

She wanted to be able to move forward and live a life of purpose.

"I'm 35 years old and I'm still doing awesome things today," said Missy. "I think it's because of that choice."

Missy wrote a book titled, "I Choose to Be Happy." She said the title fits her life perfectly.

"I'm blessed, very blessed to have everything I've ever wanted. Just because I don't walk doesn't mean I can't be happy."

She didn't know if she would be able to have children, but now Missy and her husband Josh are the proud parents to Logan and Carter.

"I can still be a mom, can still be me, and I can still use this as a purpose to help others."

She continues to take the story of what happened at Heath, to others schools and other events across the country.

She shares her story of perseverance, how bullying was a factor then and is just as big of a problem today as it was 20 years ago.

With a testimony that strong, Missy chose to become a school counselor. She is able to help students, in many cases, who've made poor decisions.

"They're sent to us so we can help them set goals for themselves and for them to have someone to talk to," said Missy.

She hopes to show the students how things like bullying, can lead to violence...and lives changed forever.

"I really feel like Michael, the shooter, didn't have anyone to talk to...I honestly think that if he had someone to discuss what he was going through that things might have been different," said Missy.

And, while nothing will ever be the same for Missy, she's ok with that.

She sees each day as a blessing.

"Even though you go through things that happen in your life that you don't control, you are the one in control after that. You can live your life and be a happy person."

Click here to watch the full interview with Missy Jenkins Smith.

Missy will be featured in a Heartland News 30-minute special on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. called "Heartland News Investigation: Safety in Our Schools."

We'll take a look at what we have learned from Heath, how districts in the Heartland handle safety and security today, and where we can improve in the future.

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