No. 696



The date of Dec. 1, 1997, will be indelibly etched deep into the minds and hearts of the citizens of West Paducah, Ky., for a long, long time. On this date, 14-year-old freshman Michael Carneal opened fire with a 22-caliber semi-automatic handgun on a group of his fellow students in a student-led prayer circle at Heath High School in this community. When the shooting stopped, three female students -- freshman Nicole Hadley, Sophomore Kayce Steger and Senior Jessica James -- lay mortally wounded, and five other students suffered gunshot wounds. Missy Jenkins was paralyzed from the chest down and left to spend the rest of her days in a wheelchair.
All of these events and more are chronicled in a must-read book titled “I Choose to Be Happy” by Missy Jenkins and co-author William Croyle. I received a review copy of this book sometime back, and once I started reading it I literally could not put it down. As one who has worked with our schools as a businessman consultant for many years, and have a fondness for the state of Kentucky because my father was born and reared there, I had a deep interest in these events. Of course, the big question in cases like this is “why” would a student turn a gun on his fellow students he has known all his life? This school shooting was not the first and, sadly, it won’t be the last, but it’s something that deeply concerns most Americans, especially parents and educators. I know it concerns me.
Here is how Missy Jenkins recalls and describes the scene after she was shot, “My limp, paralyzed body lay on the cold, hard, tile floor of the school lobby just seconds after praising God in our daily prayer circle. I lay there helplessly on my back, staring straight up at the ceiling. I couldn’t feel my legs or stomach. I could barely move my head. And I had no idea why. Chaos ensued around me as dozens of students with ear-piercing screams dashed out of the lobby and stampeded down the hallway toward the gymnasium, trying to save themselves. At the same time, several teachers bravely fought their way toward the lobby against the mad rush of terrified teens, trying to reach me and others who needed help.”
After what seemed to be an eternity, the ambulance finally arrives and takes her to Lourdes Hospital, about 10 miles away. She soon learned her fate, and that she would be a paraplegic for the rest of her life. From my perspective, the reason this book is so interesting and compelling is that Missy Jenkins takes the reader down the same path she has traveled for all the days, months and years since that tragic day. But Missy never saw her disability as an end. Just hours after the tragedy, she forgave Carneal and took her life back. In the next decade she would graduate from college, become a counselor for troubled youth, get married, have a baby and confront Carneal face to face about his actions on that fateful day.
She would earn countless local and national honors over the years from “Kentuckian of the Year” to one of Ladies Home Journal’s “Most Fascinating Women.” This is a story of love, forgiveness, courage and determination -- one that will leave people of all ages inspired to make the most of each day and never take life for granted. If you would like to walk this path with Missy, view life from a wheelchair and learn some valuable lessons along the way, get a copy of “I Choose to Be Happy” and read it. I highly recommend this inspiring book. The publisher is LangMarc and most bookstores will have it or can order it. You may also order from Barnes & Noble or
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book: “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)