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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
views with the police. According to the prosecutor, there was never enough information to charge anyone else with a crime.
Police interviews suggest that Carneal and his friends had fantasized about taking over the school or taking over the local mall. They discussed what they would do and what kind of weapons each would use and where they might get them. However, the group did not discuss any details, and Carneal stated that no one knew what was going to happen on Monday except him. He had warned people that “something big is going to happen,” but would not tell anyone, including the Goths, what it was. Carneal may have held out hope that his friends would join him once he started shooting, a viewpoint that may have been influenced by his mental illness (to be discussed below). When pressed on the details of the plan, he admitted there were none and there was no way that his friends would know what to do if they wanted to join him. The McCracken County Sheriff’s Office and the Kentucky State Police never uncovered any evidence of any specific information being exchanged about a plan to take over the school. However, there is enough ambiguity in the situation to fuel community speculation that Carneal was not the only person involved or responsible for the outcome.
Why did Michael Carneal shoot eight of his fellow students, none of whom he particularly disliked? In this section, we evaluate the evidence for and against seven interrelated theories: family factors, gun culture and availability, bullying and teasing, peer and social relations, mental illness, exposure to media violence, and adult-child relations. Any complete account would draw on all of them. Ultimately, none of these theories alone is completely satisfactory, since each points to necessary but not sufficient conditions. There are thousands of communities similar to Heath that have not suffered from lethal school violence. And of course it is also likely that entirely different factors may have produced similar tragedies in other communities. Nonetheless, because each of these ingredients was part of what became an explosive stew, they bear further discussion.
On the outside, the Carneal family is the opposite of the stereotypical dysfunctional family. John Carneal held a steady job that provided more than ample income and allowed his wife, Ann, to stay at home to care for their children. Kelly Carneal was very successful, both socially and academically. They regularly ate family meals together and went on family