We interviewed Kelly Carneal, Michael Carneal’s older sister, but we were not able to interview either Carneal himself or his parents. However, we did review three lengthy interrogations of Carneal by the police, reports and interview transcripts written by Carneal’s numerous psychiatrists and psychologists, and an exhaustive 500-page deposition of Carneal taken in preparation for the civil suits. We were unable to interview other Heath students suspected by some in the community to be coconspirators in the crime, although we did read the police interviews and civil depositions they provided.
The events discussed below have been variously described and interpreted by the people involved. While we have done our best to present what we understand to be the facts, school shootings, like other emotionally charged events, produce contradictory accounts that elude complete resolution. In this instance, civil litigation naming many of the people we interviewed was still pending on appeal at the time of our fieldwork, which discouraged the participation of a number of key figures who may someday be able to contribute their perspectives. We have deliberately refrained from using the names of those who were suspected of, but never charged with, participation in the shooting, even though their names were widely reported in the media.
The Heath community is located a few miles west of Paducah, Kentucky, a city of approximately 25,000 that sits at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Paducah and Heath are in McCracken County (population approximately 65,000), one of the northernmost counties of the Bible Belt. Long a river town and transportation hub, Paducah is at the center of an economic area that stretches into several counties to the south, east, and west in Kentucky and north into Illinois. Its economic history has seen its share of ups and downs since World War II. Barge and tugboat industries and farming were once the backbone of the county, but the economy has diversified over the past half century. Today there are only a handful of farms in McCracken County, and the main industries include medical services, river shipping industries, railroad manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, paper mills, and the nation’s only uranium enrichment plant.
The unemployment rate for the regional labor market area was 6.5 percent in 1997.1 Today, many of Paducah’s downtown storefronts sit empty, rendered obsolete by the strip malls full of chain stores and restaurants on U.S. Highway 60 near the interstate. The county’s Information Age Park, an industrial park wired for high-tech firms built in the mid-1990s, is only about 10 percent full. The opening of the United States