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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
“free pass” in the community because of their social status and that the police and the prosecution had not investigated the case aggressively enough. According to the victims’ families, they hired their own lawyer in order to learn who was involved, why it happened, and to force Michael Carneal and his parents to take responsibility for his actions. They also hoped that the suits would help prevent future shootings by illuminating the causes of the Heath shooting and by putting a wide variety of people and institutions on notice that it was their responsibility to prevent them. Among those against whom they brought suit were Michael Carneal, his parents, and the neighbor from whom Carneal stole the guns; students who had seen Carneal with a gun at school before the shooting; students who had heard that something was going to happen on Monday; students who may have been involved in a conspiracy; teachers and principals at Heath High School and Heath Middle School; and the producers of the Basketball Diaries, the makers of the point-and-shoot video games that Carneal played, and the Internet pornography sites that he visited.
The families felt that students allegedly involved in a conspiracy had not been fully cooperative with the police and that the suit would force these people to answer questions that they had not previously addressed. They also thought that Carneal’s parents had missed warning signs, such as towels over the vents, a history of vandalism, and the disappearance of family guns and knives that should have indicated that Carneal needed to be closely monitored or given psychological help. The complaints alleged that the schools had not noticed or addressed Carneal’s scholastic decline in the later years of middle school and in the months before the shooting and had not raised concern over violent stories that he had written. The complaint also faults the school for not formulating any plan to prevent school shootings, despite several past instances of school shootings in Kentucky.
Not surprisingly, given the number of people sued, there was a significant community backlash against the families who brought the suit. The families reported receiving some hate mail, being stared at in public, and being avoided by some of their old acquaintances. One of the teachers sued was still in his teacher training program at a local university at the time of the shooting and successfully countersued. This story was brought up by many as an example of the excess and carelessness of the handling of the suits. Some thought that the families were not actually interested in discovering the truth and were simply trying to win a large monetary judgment. Others felt betrayed because they felt they had reached out to the victims in their time of need, only to have them turn around and bring suit. A large majority felt that the suits were inhibiting the already very difficult healing process, making it impossible for the community to move forward. Although a fair number supported the