Portrait of a true survivor…The Missy Jenkins Story

On December 1st 1997, Freshman Michael Carneal walked into the lobby of Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky and began shooting. Three students were killed and five were injured. Missy Jenkins was one of those injured students. At the age of fifteen she was left paralyzed from the chest down. Now given the circumstances she could be granted the right to be bitter, resentful even, however this was not her choice and her story is not one of self pity but self empowerment.

The events of that day were certainly life changing but in a positive and inspiring way. Read on and discover how that moment in time changed the destiny of a fifteen year old girl and how she decided to turn what many would call ‘misfortune’ into her ‘mission’ in life…

On that fateful day, was there any form of warning before the shots started, any time for you to mentally absorb what was about to happen and think of the possible consequences?

“No there wasn’t. The first thing I saw was a girl getting shot in the head and at that time I still was not processing what was happening. I thought it was a joke.”

When you were hit did you fear that your life may be over? What thoughts were running through your mind?

“I finally learned exactly what had happened after he quit shooting and I was on the ground with my twin sister covering me. When she finally told me what was happening I then realized I had been shot. I was confused as to why I couldn’t move but I only noticed that I could not feel my stomach at first. At that time all I knew was that I felt fine. One of my teachers a little later knelt down beside me and began to pray and that is when I started to question her if I was going to live or die.”

You have said that it was right after the shooting that you decided your life’s purposes…can you share the way that happened?

“When I was in the x-ray department learning about my injury I began to realize how lucky and blessed I was to still be alive. I knew that God had a plan for me and that I had not fulfilled my purpose in life. I was someone who I would consider shy at the time and would definitely not get up in front of a big crowd and speak but when I finally decided to speak for the first time I had no fear. I realized it was my purpose to spread the message of what I had learned from the shooting and how I was able to overcome such a life changing event and choose to be happy as well.”

You seem to have had an understanding of the killer and, to a degree, empathy. I am sure I am not the only one to find that both admirable and puzzling at the same time. I mean most people would condemn as an automatic response….

“He was someone I knew and definitely would have never thought he was capable of such a thing. I found it very sad that he felt in order to fix his problem he had to bring a gun to school and do what he did. That he was hurting so much he felt he had to resort to that. I definitely feel he needs to deal with the consequences of his actions and I don’t excuse his actions just because he was bullied but I feel that it is proof that we have some work to do in terms of adults developing relationships with kids and others when it comes to understanding, empathy and the impact that bullying can cause.”

How big an issue is bullying both in and out of school and how do you think it can be stopped?

“Well I think that bullying is a serious issue. It has definitely been around for a while but everyone has always treated it as if it is a normal behavior and that people should just ‘get over it’. To help stop this I really think that adults should work on developing relationships with kids so that they have someone to turn to. Also making sure that kids know that they can go to that adult and share their issues and that they will listen to them and help them when needed. I also think kids need to take it in their own hands and work on refusing to be a bystander. By simply watching and not acting to stop this behavior it just fuels the bully’s fire and they believe what they are doing is important. We need to teach kids to be witnesses to these acts and not to just overlook it for fear of being called a ‘snitch’. In essence it is basically torturing others and it is simply not right. Bullying definitely affects people into adulthood.”

Your book says it all…”I choose to be happy” but have there been times when that was not such an easy choice to make and if so how did you overcome those moments?

“There are plenty of times when I get frustrated with things but I have to remind myself that my situation could be so much worse and that I am blessed for what I do have.”

You also chose to meet the killer, what prompted that decision?

“I felt that maybe he could bring some positives to the negative situation that he created. I felt that with my speaking to him I would be able to help kids better understand what was going through his mind and how he regrets what he did and what he wishes he would have done instead of make that decision.”

What feeling did you take away from that meeting?

“I felt good to be able to tell him what I saw that day and how his decision to bring a gun to school has affected me for the rest of my life. I feel that there is no such thing as closure because the shooting is something that I will remember for the rest of my life but it was the closest I could get to it.”

Do you think it had an impact on him?

“I think that it did have an impact on him because I had a good visual imprint of what happened that day. He told me at the end of our conversation that he was sorry for what he had done.”

You say that although you forgive him he needs to stay behind bars….can you elaborate?

“When I forgave him I forgave him for me so that I did not have to let anger over rule me. I didn’t want the situation he created to control me because I wanted to be happy with my second chance out of life not angry. Even though I forgave him I still believe he must deal with the consequences of his actions because he still killed three people.”

Do you sometimes look back and marvel at the fact that you survived to tell the tale?

“I do, I can honestly say I would not have changed being there because I feel it has made me a better person. I still can’t believe that it even happened sometimes.”

How do you hope your story will impact others?

“I hope that people learn from the lesson’s that I have learned from experiencing that shooting. I hope people learn how to treat each other with kindness and work to stop the bullying. I hope that kids understand the importance of telling if they hear about a violent act occurring at their school. I hope that people learn the power of forgiveness and how that has set me free and made me a happy person. Also the long road it took me to get where I am today and that I chose to be happy which gave me a wonderful husband, children and career I love!”

What are your plans for the future?

“Well even though my husband thinks I am crazy I would love to have one more child. I would also love to continue speaking and sharing my story because I feel that is something God has called me to do and I absolutely love doing it. I also hope to further my education by either getting a master’s in my degree or maybe another opportunity doing something amazing that may pop up!”



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