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25 years after Kentucky school shooting, a chance at parole

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WEST PADUCAH, Ky. - When 14-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on his fellow students during a before-school prayer meeting in 1997, school shootings were not yet a part of the national consciousness.

The carnage that left three students dead and five more injured at Heath High School, near Paducah, Kentucky, ended when Carneal put down his weapon and the principal walked him to the school office — a scene that seems unimaginable today.Also stretching today’s imagination — Carneal’s life sentence guaranteed an opportunity for parole after 25 years, the maximum sentence permissible at the time given his age.A quarter-century later, Carneal is 39 with a parole hearing next week that comes at a very different time in American life — after Sandy Hook, after Uvalde.

Today police officers and metal detectors are an accepted presence in many schools, and even kindergartners are drilled to prepare for active shooters."Twenty-five years seemed like so long, so far away," Missy Jenkins Smith recalls thinking at the time of the sentencing.

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