I Choose to be Happy: A School Shooting Survivor's Triumph over Tragedy
Author of

Actress Melissa Joan Hart with Missy Jenkins Smith and Missy’s book “I Choose to be Happy.”

On December 1, 1997 a 14-year-old freshman boy who had been bullied for years walked into the Heath High School lobby in West Paducah, Kentucky, and randomly fired a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Three students were killed. Five were injured.

One of the critically injured girls was 15-year-old sophomore Missy Jenkins, who was left paralyzed from the chest down. But just hours after the shooting, Missy did the unthinkable: she forgave the shooter, accepted her disability and reclaimed her life.

During the next 17 years Missy would graduate from college, become a counselor for troubled students, marry her college sweetheart, give birth to two children, speak publicly about her life to tens of thousands of youth and adults, write an award-winning memoir and confront the shooter face to face in prison. She would earn many local and national honors, from “Kentuckian of the Year” to one of Ladies’ Home Journal’s “Most Fascinating Women,” and would appear on “Oprah,” “Good Morning America,” “Dateline,” and “Anderson Cooper 360.”

This is one woman’s story of love, forgiveness, courage and determination that will leave readers of all ages inspired to make the most of each day.

What people are saying…

Diane Sawyer – ABC News…

“Missy breaks your heart, puts it back together again, and makes you a believer in forgiveness, faith, and how the strength of one girl can change the world”


Robin Meade – CNN Headline News anchor and author of N.Y. Times best seller Morning Sunshine!

“Through Missy’s narrative, you’ll learn how this young woman moved from being part of a headline…to being an inspiration. Thank you Missy for showing us the healing qualities of forgiveness…and real grace in the face of adversity”


Renee Miller – Principal, Junction Hill C-12 School, West Plains, Mo…

“Missy’s story of courage and forgiveness is one that every student and parent needs to hear and experience. Missy not only shares from her heart about being a victim of a school shooting, but she also offers hope and encouragement to everyone she meets. Missy doesn’t just talk about healing and being able to forgive, she LIVES it. Her bubbly personality draws you in and her beautiful spirit of love captivates you. It’s easy to understand why she chooses to be happy. Truly there is no better motivator and encourager than Missy Jenkins Smith. Her book will leave you wanting to be a better person.”


Katherine S. Newman, James B. Knapp Dean of the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and senior author of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings

“Missy Jenkins is more than a survivor. She is living testimony to the fact that a loving family and a supportive community brings forth the best in someone who has been hurt beyond measure. Those inner qualities of resilience, determination, optimism, and empathy flourish in Missy. Her life is full of joy and meaning and she has become a symbol of courage for the thousands of young people who have seen her on television and learned from her example. Rampage school shootings are, thankfully, very rare. But they are devastating to their victims, including the innocent bystanders who cannot forget what they have witnessed. Understandably, we dwell on the horror and the sadness. What this book shows us is that in this rare case, it is possible to do more than go on. For Missy, the shooting has provided a purpose in life: to help young people who are misunderstood, angry and roiling inside, to reach out to them with sympathy in the hopes that they will never feel so isolated as her assailant, Michael Carneal, did so many years ago. This book has a great deal to teach us all .”


Crystal Woodman Miller– Columbine High School shooting survivor and author of Marked for Life

“Missy shares her inspiring story of life after tragedy with candor and vulnerability. She tells of how she chose hope over despair, and has discovered purpose, strength and the grace to use the atrocity at her high school as a catalyst to becoming a person determined to change the world! Missy, is a woman of great passion and character, who has the ability to inspire all people to live each moment to the fullest, and embrace the life they have been given. Her pursuit of God and forgiveness will undoubtedly touch your heart so deeply, that you will forever be changed after reading this book!”


Dan Gross, Co-founder of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence and president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence…

“This is a story everyone should know. It is about a remarkable young lady overcoming tremendous adversity to find happiness and fulfillment. But it is also about something much more universal in its appeal and its need. It is about hope – how one person, through hard work, an indomitable will and a luminescent spirit, really can change the world. Missy Jenkins inspires me, and I know she will do the same for anyone fortunate to read this book.”


Jim Abbott, former major league pitcher…

“As a 15-year-old who had just been shot and paralyzed, Missy Jenkins showed a maturity well beyond her years by immediately accepting her fate and adapting to life as a paraplegic. Her determination, strength and bravery shine through this book, which offers valuable lessons to people of all ages..”


Sgt. Steven Whited – School resource officer, Fort Payne, Ala., and education coordinator of the Alabama Association of School Resource Officers…

“Missy delivers a powerful and emotional message depicting a horrific moment in her life but at the same time, offers uplifting motivation to empower others to turn a negative experience into a positive climate. Absolutely inspiring!”

Buy Missy’s Book



Click here to inquire about quantity discounts, such as for schools.

This Week’s Happiness Quote

“Just because you are happy it does not mean that the day is perfect but that you have looked beyond its imperfections."

― Bob Marley


Missy and her co-author, William Croyle, will be happy to accommodate you with interview requests. Please contact Mr. Croyle directly through his e-mail.