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Games In The Court – Paducah Shooting

On December 1, 1997 , Michael Carneal (14), student of the Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, shot Nicole Hadley (14), Jessica James (17) and Kayce Steger (15) - fellow students, who were attending a morning prayer. Five other students where wounded [1], [2].

It does not seem that Carneal was a problem child, but he had slight disciplinary problems [3], and it was reported that he had been picked on by peers:

And, Heath High School's principal said the boy's school essays and short stories revealed that he felt weak and picked on.

Principal Bill Bond said Carneal apparently "had been teased all his life" and "just struck out in anger at the world."

People who know Carneal described him as physically small and emotionally immature, but said he has been a good student with no serious discipline problems.

[source: CNN]

Carneal himself was unable to explain why the shooting happened [4].

In December 1998 Michael Carneal was sentenced to life in prison after he had pleaded "guilty, but mentally ill" [5]:

PADUCAH, Kentucky (CNN) -- A 15-year-old Kentucky high school student was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years for killing three classmates and wounding five others as they gathered for a school prayer circle.

Judge Jeff Hines gave Michael Carneal the stiffest sentence available to him as a minor under Kentucky law.


Several victims and their families spoke during the sentencing hearing.

Some of the most emotional testimony came from Melissa Jenkins, now 16, a student who was struck by Carneal's gunfire and left partially paralyzed.'

From her wheelchair, Jenkins asked Carneal to look at her while she was speaking. She told Carneal she didn't harbor any ill will toward him, but was upset that the shootings had occurred.

Jenkins' twin sister, Mandy, witnessed the shootings. Mandy Jenkins told Carneal that she forgave him and that he needed help.

Defense attorney Tom Osborne told CNN in October, "Michael's condition from a layman's point of view is that he just doesn't perceive and think like most 14- and 15-year-old young men."

[source: CNN]

Early in 1999 the families of the victims Hadley, James and Steger - represented by Jack Thompson - filed a lawsuit against several media companies:

Parents of Jessica James, Kayce Steger and Nicole Hadley, students killed at Paducah, Ky, high school on Dec 1, 1997, file $130 million lawsuit against two Internet pornography sites, several computer game companies and makers and distributors of 1995 film The Basketball Diaries; assert that media violence inspired Michael Carneal, boy who shot their children; film's makers and distributors include Time Warner and Polygram Filmed Entertainment Distribution Inc (M).

[source: New York Times]

This lawsuit was received with mixed feelings by the Paducah community:

In a letter to the Paducah Sun, Nancy Holm, the mother of one of the injured children, wrote, "By continually parading students and faculty through the courts as defendants for a crime that was the responsibility of one person, as far as I am concerned, we cannot even start to heal."

But John B. Thompson [Jack Thompson], a lawyer from Coral Gables, Fla., who is representing the parents, said the suits target movies and video games, such as Doom, that have played a role in several school shootings.

He said the games and pornography -- all of Carneal's victims were female -- triggered the boy's rampage by blurring the line between reality and fantasy.

"Is there more than one reason why these murders happened? Yes, there is," Thompson said.

"But certain entertainment products are part of a causal chain, and but for certain links in the chain, there would have been no murders."

Paducah may provide a map of the future for Colorado, McCuiston said.

"Your whole community is in shock for a while, and after they get through the shock, they band together like nobody's business," McCuiston said.

"Then when you come to lawsuits, everything changes, your mood changes. When you start pointing fingers at kids and teachers and administrators, it's tough. It's an emotional roller coaster. Your whole community changes."

[source: Rocky Mountain News]

Thompson seems especially worried about the games Grand Theft Auto and Doom, which he holds responsible for both the Paducah and Columbine shootings:

The games Thompson is most upset about include Grand Theft Auto and Doom.


At Heath, Michael Carneal killed three students and wounded five others as they participated in a prayer circle. Thompson said Carneal, firing from 25 feet away, shot eight different targets - three in the head and five in the upper torso.

"He had never fired a handgun before in his life. He didn't miss with a single shot. He shot at one human being and then moved on in a rapid fire technique," Thompson said. "He learned it from playing a video game where you are rewarded for rapid fire techniques. It is not what people do when they unload their weapon into the first target until you have visual confirmation that target is down on the ground and then move on."

He later filed his lawsuit in Paducah and went on the Today show the next day and told the nation that there "will be other American boys in American high schools who will go on shooting rampages that have been trained on the game Doom, the game Michael Carneal was trained on." Eight days later, Columbine happened.


Thompson then cited various studies, including one at Indiana University that he says proves that playing violent games damage children's brains; that they are unable to decipher reality and what they see on a video game.

Kushner questioned these studies.

"If anybody could actually find definitive proof that these games lead to violence, they would be banned. I wouldn't want them out there. Who would want them out there?" he said. "The fact of the matter is that no one has found that evidence. I think there is a lot of misrepresentation in these studies that have been supposedly done."

He went on to say that the leaders of the IU study could not come to the conclusion that violent video games lead to violent actions.

"The suggestion that you could play the video game and develop the skills to fire a real weapon…I think anyone who has actually played the game would think that is absurd at best," Kushner said, adding that his mother-in-law saw him playing the game once and asked what it was. "I told her Doom and she couldn't believe all the fuss was over something so cartoonish."

Thompson also said the Defense Department, with the authorization of Congress, created the Institute for Creative Technology at Southern Cal. He says the government is using tax dollars to pay the video game industry to create murder simulation games that break down the inhibitions of new recruits who have been trained all their lives not to kill.

Kushner countered that claim by saying he had gone to the Institute, and the game he played in a Bosnia-type setting and the unit had to work together to rescue injured persons.


"When the next Columbine happens, it will be worse and then the video game industry will then have the pressure put upon it to change," Thompson said. "When Columbine to the factor of 10 happens, there will be hue and cry to ban all games altogether. Then the video game industry will say how did we get to this point?

"The answer I give them will be you didn't listen to normal people."

Kushner says society needs to focus on what is troubling these children.

"Instead of saying how do kids train on Doom, we should be asking what is troubling these kids? We need to get a better understanding of what is going on in their world," he said. "What I hope to leave you with is if we misrepresent their culture and things that are meaningful to them, it would be doing a tremendous disservice, I think.

[source: Kentucky School Advocate]

The lawsuit was finally dismissed in 2002:

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case last year that it was "simply to far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen to shooting people in a classroom."

[source: CNN]


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