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Slain girls' good-bye full of tears, faith


Funeral services in Paducah for 3 shot Monday

December 5, 1997
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST (0300 GMT)

PADUCAH, Kentucky (CNN) -- Amidst a sea of flowers and expressions of deep faith, a Kentucky community said a tearful good-bye Friday to three teen-age girls slain Monday as they gathered with friends in a prayer circle at a local high school.

Thousands of classmates, family and friends gathered at Bible Baptist Church in Paducah for the funerals of Jessica James, 17, Nicole Hadley, 14, and Kayce Steger, 15, who were eulogized as "three of the finest young people in our community."

"I can imagine them sitting up [in heaven], looking down, asking us, 'Don't cry, because I'm in a better place.' They just got there a little bit sooner than the rest of us," said Ben Strong, 17, a classmate credited with saving lives by talking the alleged gunman, Michael Carneal, into stopping his shooting rampage at Heath High School in West Paducah.

Scenes from the funeral
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  • The service began with photos of the three slain girls displayed on giant television screens hanging from the roof of the sanctuary, as mourners listened to the strains of "Amazing Grace."

    Three white coffins, covered with messages from friends and classmates, sat at the front of the church. Framed collages of photographs, capturing scenes from each of the girls' lives, sat nearby, amidst a sea of flower arrangements and mementos.

    Services televised at families' request

    Condolences have been offered from people across the United States and around the world. At the families' request, the funeral service was televised so that the country could share in their grief. Many businesses in the small Western Kentucky community closed for the service.

    The choir from Health High sang the "Prayer of St. Francis," which includes the lines "where there is sadness, let there be joy" and "where there is hatred, let me so love."

    Kelly Carneal, the sister of the 14-year-old boy who allegedly shot the girls, is a member of the school choir and sang during the funeral, after family members of the victims gave their assent.

    The pastors of each of the girls rose to offer tributes, to provide words of comfort to the families they left behind -- and to try to answer the question of why three young girls were so suddenly cut down.

    "It escapes all logic. We aren't able to understand all things. It is a matter of faith ... to trust that God is in control," said Rev. Tom Hughes, of Kevil Baptist Church, which Jessica James attended.

    Hughes quoted a Bible passage from the book of Romans: "And we know, that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose."

    Pastor: 'You've got to be willing to forgive'


    "We're more than sure that when bad things happen, if we'll make the right choices, good things will come out of it," said Rev. Don Young of Bible Baptist Church, the church attended by Nicole Hadley.

    "You've got to be willing to forgive and say, 'God, get something good out of something bad.' And if you'll make that choice ... God will do it."

    "This community won't ever be the same. I will never quite be the same," Young said.

    Second interrogation yields no new clues

    Michael Carneal, 14, a freshman at Heath High, stands accused of entering the school and firing into a group of about 40 Christian students who had gathered in a hallway to pray. In addition to the three girls who were killed, five other students were wounded, including a girl who is now paralyzed from the waist down.

    Michael Carneal

    Carneal allegedly obtained a cache of weapons and ammunition in a burglary on Thanksgiving Day. He has been charged, as a junvenille, with murder, attempted murder and burglary and could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

    Authorities interviewed Carneal for a second time on Thursday, but the interview yield no new information on a motive for the shooting.

    During his first interrogation, Carneal mentioned a 1995 film called "The Basketball Diaries," in which the main character shoots his classmates during a dream sequence. But Sheriff Frank Augustus says he doubts the movie played a role in the crime.

    Authorities say Carneal also mentioned that he had talked of his plan to shoot classmates with others. Police have questioned classmates and friends, some of whom have hired lawyers. But Augustus says no additional arrests are expected soon.

    Correspondent John Holliman contributed to this report.


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