Survivor of Heath High School shooting speaks about killer’s parole hearing

The family of murder victim Nicole Hadley testified during a victim’s hearing in the Michael...
The family of murder victim Nicole Hadley testified during a victim’s hearing in the Michael Carneal case on Monday morning, September 19.(Kentucky Department of Corrections)
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 9:26 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Later this month, one of the first school shooters in the country is having parole hearings. It comes 25 years after Michael Carneal went to school with guns hidden in a blanket, pretending it was an art project. The now 39-year-old was a 14-year-old freshman at the time.

One of the survivors of that shooting is sharing her thoughts.

Brittney Thomas said Dec. 1, 1997, at Heath High School in West Paducah started the same as any other school day, with a prayer group meeting in the lobby.

“As soon as we said amen is when the first gunshots were fired,” Thomas recalled. “As the shooting continued, we didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t in anybody’s mindset at the time that this would be happening.”

Thomas doesn’t have physical injuries, but she has been facing emotional ones for 25 years.

”There were people around me who I saw get shot and fall to the ground and once the shooting stopped 8 people were injured,” Thomas said. “Three of whom passed away including a close friend.”

Now, one of the first school shooters in the country, Michael Carneal, had a parole proceeding on Monday and Tuesday over Zoom. The two members taking part in Tuesday’s hearing could not agree on the parole request. The case has been sent to the full parole board for a hearing next week.


He pleaded guilty and sentenced to life in prison, but under Kentucky law, he’s given the possibility of parole after 25 years.

”That day is going to be difficult,” Thomas said. “When you are 15, and you hear that this person that hurt you so badly will have the possibility for parole in 25 years, that sounds like forever.”

Thomas asked to speak at the hearing, but was told she couldn’t because her injuries can’t be seen.

She strongly feels the man, who claimed to be bullied and then later diagnosed with schizophrenia, should stay in prison.

”I have no problem with him getting access to mental health care getting the help he needs while he’s in prison, but there are many people who don’t get a second chance at life because of his actions,” Thomas said. “I do think this parole hearing is going to set a huge precedent for active shooters across the country who are going to look at this case and look at this outcome.”

She’s recently connected with Louisville’s Whitney Austin, who survived being shot 12 times during a mass shooting in Cincinnati, Ohio.

”There’s nothing like being able to tell your story and have somebody come up and instead of saying ‘oh my gosh, that’s awful’ look at you and say ‘me too,’” Thomas said.

She’s become passionate about Whitney’s nonprofit, Whitney Strong, which aims to reduce gun violence.

”This is an issue on multiple levels and it’s going to take multiple people from multiple departments from multiple fields coming together around the same table,” Thomas said.

Thomas now works for Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates because her friend, Nicole, who died in the shooting, was an organ donor. She also volunteers with CASA, helping children go through the court process because after the shooting when she was just a teenager and scheduled to testify, she found that so scary.