20th Anniversary Heath High School Shooting


Kaitlyn Craig, Columnist and Human Interest Coordinator

December 1st, 1997. The day that changed the city of Paducah forever. It was on this day that three died and five more were severely injured, due to a freshman student opening fire on a prayer group meeting at Heath High School. Everyone always thinks that things like this won’t happen to them, to their little town. That these things are supposed to happen in places like New York. But this is the day where that thinking changed. This event put our little town of Paducah, Kentucky in the news all over the country.

We just recently passed the 20th anniversary of this horrible day. The 20th anniversary brought with it the opening and completion of the new memorial across the street. While working on this article, I decided to go visit the new memorial and pay my respects to those who lost their lives and those whose lives were changed forever because of this tragedy. While I was there, I stayed for a few minutes to absorb everything and observe the things around me. What kept coming to mind was, “wow, through all this sadness, there is still an overwhelming sense of community, family, and love.”

I talked to Julie Robertson, a teacher at Symsonia Elementary who was a student in the prayer group during the time of the shooting, to really get a feeling of the intensity and tragedy of the event, and the passing of the anniversary. Julie was very willing to tell me her story and share her feelings and experiences about the event. When asked about what emotions the 20th anniversary brings, Julie shared, “The anniversary takes me back to that day in 1997. This year the media coverage really brought back memories. Seeing all of the coverage really made it feel as if it happened yesterday, not twenty years ago.” With the memorial being renovated and moved to a new location, it is now open for more of the public to go and pay their respects. I asked Julie if she had seen the memorial and her thoughts about the renovations. “I have not seen the new memorial in person, but pictures. I plan to visit soon. It looks beautiful and I’m so glad it has been moved and is no longer behind a fence.”

“My most prominent memory is watching the victims being taken to the ambulances, I was with a friend in her mom’s classroom, and we were looking out the window.” she said. When asked if she had any traditions she did every year on the anniversary, Julie responded, “That night 20 years ago I remember laying under my Christmas tree crying and praying for everyone involved. I still sit in the quiet by the tree every year and do the same. Pray.”

Traumatic events such as this have a way of changing people’s mindsets and the way they think about everything. “December 1st made me realize that life is short and we aren’t promised tomorrow. Also just to be kind to each other. Love one another. I remained strong in my faith after, and this tragedy drew me closer to Christ. I also now have a passion for school safety and teaching my students to be kind to each other.”

This was a horrible event that happened in our past, but December 1st, 1997 brought Paducah together as a community. It is certainly a date that all of us will keep in our thoughts, and will be a date that will stand in our history. May we never forget those who were injured and who lost their lives in this tragic event.