20 years ago, another Kentucky school was attacked. Locals have never forgotten

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For longtime residents in western Kentucky, Tuesday’s shooting at a local high school brought back painful reminders of another deadly attack two decades ago.

On December 1, 1997, an armed teenager walked into Heath High School in West Paducah and shot his schoolmates, who had just finished a prayer session. Three girls were killed.

Christina Hadley Ellegood was stunned when she heard about the latest shooting. She lost her sister Nicole in the earlier attack.

“I thought this can’t be true,” Ellegood told CNN affiliate WPSD. “How in our world, can our small community be going through this? How can it be so close to home? I’m honestly still in shock.”

On Tuesday, an armed teenager started shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, about 30 miles southeast of West Paducah, killing two students and injuring 18 others, police said.

Authorities identified the slain students as Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, both 15.

A 15-year-old student was arrested at the scene, and he will be charged with murder and attempted murder, Gov. Matt Bevin said. It’s likely the suspect will be charged as an adult, but his name won’t be released unless he’s indicted, Marshall County Attorney Jeff Edwards said.

Authorities have not provided a possible motive.

Pouring out of the school, some panic-stricken students sought shelter at a nearby auto body shop.

Jeff DeFew, whose family owns the shop, said he was still processing what happened hours later.

“We’re going to have to figure out something to keep our kids safe,” he said, recalling the West Paducah shooting.

“That was when this school shooting stuff started to happen. That was even before Columbine,” he said.

That gunman, Michael Carneal, was a 14-year-old freshman when he carried out the attack. He later pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder, and agreed to accept a life sentence in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Last month, Ellegood and other families of the Heath High School victims marked the 20th anniversary of the tragedy and honored the three victims — her sister Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15 — with a new memorial.

“We just had the 20-year anniversary. Here we are going through this. We never wanted anyone else in our community to go through something like this,” Ellegood told WPSD.

Ellegood offered her family and the community’s support to those affected by the latest school shooting.

“We’re here for you,” she said. “Let us know what we can do to help. We understand what you’re going through in a way that no one else does.”