WEST PADUCAH, Ky. (BP)–Had the bullet traveled inches lower, Craig Keene might be dead or paralyzed. He believes surviving the shooting spree at a morning prayer meeting at Heath High School that killed three classmates means God has plans for his future.
Keene, a freshman at the rural West Paducah, Ky., school, said the bullet entered his lower left ear and exited almost directly in the back of his head — an inch or two from his spine.
A member of Olivet Baptist Church in Paducah, Keene was one of two Southern Baptists wounded at Heath High. Holland Holm, 14, is a member of Immanuel Baptist Church.
Also wounded were Missy Jenkins, 15, who attends North 32nd Street Church of Christ and is the only one still hospitalized, paralyzed in the lower half of her body; Kelly Hard, 16, of St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church; and Shelly Schaberg, 17, of Grace Episcopal Church.
Keene said coming through the ordeal with no major injuries has strengthened his faith.
“I feel God spared me because he has a specific plan for my life,” he said. “I feel he chose (the victims) for a reason and he chose us to live for a reason. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think we’ll find out.”
Fellow student Michael Carneal, 14, has been indicted in connection with the attack and will be arraigned in January.
A lot of good has come out of the tragedy, said Keene, pointing to two transplant recipients receiving the heart and lungs of one of the slain students, Nicole Hadley. There have also been many salvations since the Dec. 1 incident, he said.
The converts included 22 people who accepted Christ as Savior at a “Celebration of Life” Dec. 15 at Paducah’s Bible Baptist Heartland Worship Center.
A dozen family members of victims Hadley, Jessica James and Kayce Steger sat in the front center section at the service. James was a member of First Baptist Church, Kevil, and Steger attended 12th Street Baptist in Paducah, both Southern Baptist churches.
The rally, organized by a Southern Baptist youth evangelist, the featured nationally known youth evangelist Dawson McAllister and singer Al Denson.
Billed as a service of worship and praise to honor the victims, it raised nearly $4,900 to help the five survivors with medical expenses.
Keene mingled with many of his classmates after the event concluded, a testimony to his rapid recovery. A bass drummer in the high school band, he marched in the community’s Christmas parade five days after the shootings.
A Christian since second grade, he said the disaster has prompted him to give serious thought to missions work. Planning to join his church’s youth group on a mission trip to Rhode Island next summer, he believes he will be bolder in the field.
“It’s taken a lot (for me) to stand up for the Lord,” said the shy, reserved youth. “It’s easy for me to act Christian, but I’ve gotten a little nervous when I have to say something with my mouth. I think this is going to help me a lot in talking about Christ with other people.”
Taking the gospel to the lost inspired Chad Lamb, youth director for the Graves County Baptist Association, to organize the Dec. 15 rally.
A member of Trace Creek Baptist Church in Mayfield, he is a second-year student at Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College. Lamb said he felt God speaking to his heart after the murders.
“Chad, we need to do something,” he described the message. “I can turn this mess into a miracle if the right things happen and if the right people are willing to take this upon themselves and go with this.”
Soon after he contacted McAllister and Denson, who waived their customary fee to come to western Kentucky.
Believing the rally can help turn the Paducah area around by drawing more people to a closer walk with the Lord, Lamb said God is continuing to move in the aftermath of the shootings.
“I believe God has shown he’s still on the throne and still in control,” Lamb said. “Through him we can do great and mighty things if we just rely on him. God’s not through here yet. I think you’ll be hearing a lot more stuff that’s going on in Paducah.”
McAllister agreed. The host of a nationally syndicated radio talk show, the youth evangelist from Nashville, Tenn., said the shootings have strengthened a youthful prayer movement that is spreading across the nation.
“If there’s anything that will save this culture, it’s prayer,” McAllister said. “I (also) hope kids will say, ‘I’m going to take Jesus Christ more seriously.’ If they pray and take Christ more seriously, my third hope will take care of itself — that many kids will come to Christ.”
Denson, a Dallas-based recording artist who appears regularly with McAllister, said the most significant element of the Paducah-area teens’ actions has been their forgiveness of the accused.
“In places I’ve (traveled), the thing I’ve seen the most is people who don’t have a relationship with God saying, ‘How in the world could those people forgive that guy?'” Denson recounted.
“When I saw them putting a sign up in their school that said, ‘Forgive him,’ that made me want to come here and scream as loud as I could, ‘Go get ’em guys, show the world what forgiveness is.’ It’s great for me to see students taking a stand.”