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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
individuals who are considered the bedrock of the town. The Carneals were described by most people as sincere, generous, and actively involved in all aspects of community life, particularly the domains of greatest interest to their children. They opened their home to their children’s friends, who were frequent guests at the Carneal family dinner table. Their home was something of a hub for kids, some of whom were experiencing typical teenage conflict with their own parents. Indeed, one of the shooting victims spent time at the Carneal’s in part because she was at odds with her own parents.
Hence the atmosphere surrounding Michael Carneal was that of a well-educated household with high expectations for academic performance and an older sister who had excelled. It was a sociable family that appreciated the importance of participation. The Carneals were, in this respect, proper and conventional, in keeping with normative cultural practices of the Paducah community. At home and with his family, Carneal appeared to be a fairly normal 14-year-old boy, but in other social contexts, especially the harsh social world of high school, he was uncomfortable and self-conscious, constantly looking for approval and respect from both youth and adults.
Michael Carneal’s friends described him as a jokester and a prankster, always looking for attention and trying to win friends. His small size made him a frequent target of teasing and occasional bullying, although he was also known for teasing others himself. He stole CDs and other items and gave them to students at school because he thought it was cool to steal. He gave students his own possessions and told them they were stolen. Carneal downloaded pornography from the web along with pages from the Anarchist Cookbook and sold them or gave them away. He also stole hundred dollar bills from his father’s wallet and gave them to students at school.
His teachers described him as intelligent, obedient to authority, forgetful, restless, and less socially skilled than average but someone who had friends. Although he tested at an IQ of 120, his grades slipped in the eighth grade, a slump that did not go unnoticed at home. In the fall of his freshman year in high school, his grades improved again to three Bs and an A. While a respectable performance, it may have been perceived as below his capabilities. Michael Carneal was in the marching band, a focal point of life for many students at Heath in part because it was a competitive activity that involved traveling to other schools. However, his career in the band was not altogether successful, since he and one other student were chosen to sit out of early competitions because the band did not have enough uniforms.
Carneal was also interested in video games and computers and appeared to have spent much time in the middle of the night using the