CINCINNATI -- It was a cold December morning in 1997 that changed a Kentucky teenage girl's life forever.
A 14-year-old boy walked into the Heath High School lobby on Dec. 1 in Paducah, Kentucky and opened fire on a group of students with a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol, killing three students and injuring five more, according to ABC News.
That boy, Michael Carneal, said he shot his classmates because he had been bullied by them for years.
One of the critically injured girls was 15-year-old Missy Jenkins, who was left paralyzed from the chest down after a bullet tore through the left side of her chest and clipped her spine, according to Moms Demand Action.
"I heard what I thought was firecrackers," Smith-Jenkins wrote. "A prank? I saw my friend Nicole fall hard to the floor. Was she in on the prank? Then a bullet pierced the left side of my chest, just above my heart... There was no prank. No joke. Eight of us were shot, nine if you count the bullet that grazed my twin sister Mandy’s neck. Nicole died. So did Jessica. In the ambulance I was put in, they tried to revive my friend Kayce. She didn’t live."
Her friends Jessica James, Kayce Steger and Nicole Hadley died that day.
Despite Jenkins traumatizing experience, she returned to Health High School and graduated before earning a degree in social work from Murray State University.
She married her college sweetheart, Josh Smith, and had two children, both boys.
She went on to become a counselor for troubled students and speaks publicly about her life to thousands of youth and adults.
She spoke at Newport Middle and High School and Bellevue High School Friday. You can listen to what she told the Northern Kentucky students in the media player above.
The shooting was one of the most widely covered attacks in the U.S. in 1997.
Even though it was 17 years ago, Jenkins said she still remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I’m here to help you learn from what we did wrong,” Jenkins told the students. “When I saw the first person get shot who was actually shot in the head at that point I didn’t understand there was a gun. I thought it was a joke.”
She said when the attack happened, she heard the shots and saw people running.
“Kids screaming and running and that’s all. Kids lying on the ground,” Jenkins said.
The Newport students listening to Jenkins said her outlook was unexpected.
“I was kind of shocked how she was positive about the whole thing,” eighth-grade Mirena Combs.
Jenkins book is a testament to her strength, especially considering she is personally reminded of the attack every day.
“A little bit later I realized that I wasn’t moving my legs and my teacher told me, ‘No, you’re just in shock you’re ok,’” Jenkins said. “They told me I was paralyzed from the chest down and my very first thought was I was actually ok with it.”
Jenkins said she has talked with the now 31-year-old Michael Carter about the attack.
“In the end he told me he was sorry for what had happened to me,” Jenkins said
Watch Jenkins-Smith inspire a crowd of more than 1,000 educators at the annual Kentucky Association of School Administrators conference July 16 by walking across the stage with the help of a brace and walker:
To read a letter written by Jenkins-Smith about her life experience, CLICK HERE.