'We need to wake up': 1993 Kentucky school shooting survivor calls for change after Texas shooting

Posted at 5:07 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 18:15:09-04

GRAYSON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky hasn't been spared from the horror of school shootings. One happened at Heath High School in West Paducah back in 1997. Another happened at Marshall County High School back in 2018. But sometimes forgotten is what happened nearly three decades ago in Eastern Kentucky.

The shooting at East Carter High School in Grayson, Kentucky is one of the first school shootings in small-town America.

Nathan Thompson lived through it. Maybe more than anyone else, he understands what the families in Uvalde, Texas are going through now... and for the rest of their lives.

From time to time, we go through the paper trail of our lives, thumbing through the records that chronicle our childhood.

Thompson's memories from 1993 include shocking headlines that recorded his darkest day.

People Magazine documented his nightmare that's just as frightening to this day.

"Fireworks are terrible," said Thompson. "I want to go crawl in a hole somewhere on the Fourth of July. When I enter a room, a restaurant or something, I'm scoping out every exit. I'm checking out every person I see as a threat."

All caused by Scott Pennington. In January 1993, Nathan and 21 classmates sat stunned when Pennington walked into the classroom and shot and killed their English teacher, Deanna McDavid. Pennington then killed Marvin Hicks, the janitor who rushed in to help.

"I have a memory of him talking about how many bullets he had left, talking about how he didn't have enough for all of us," said Thompson.

Pennington held Nathan and the other kids hostage for 15 to 20 long minutes and then released them, unharmed.

"The person I was ceased to exist on January 18 at about 2:44 p.m.," said Thompson.

Nathan was raised in a conservative environment and leaned to the right on most issues, including gun laws, despite what he lived through.

Living with the same beliefs in Lexington, with a career and family, Nathan avoided most of the coverage of school shootings that have happened in the 30 years since he was a senior in high school.

"Many times, I see things about a school shooting, and I lose it," he said.

Last Tuesday, when his wife read to him details of the 19 children killed in Uvalde, Texas...

"...and she started talking about the ages of the babies that were murdered ... and a switch flipped," said Thompson.

Almost immediately, some life-long beliefs changed, including his once rigid stance on gun rights.

"And I was so horrified that I was willing to change my beliefs, and I'm actually kind of embarrassed that it took that long," he said.

Now, Nathan says his heart is broken for the victims in Uvalde... the dead, and those still living.

"And they're gonna go through the absolute hell that I've been through the past 30 years," Thompson said.

He's calling for action... almost begging for laws to be changed.

"Some of those kids are my son's age and their life will never be the same... all because some kid got access to a firearm he should have never gotten hold of and massacred those kids," said Thompson. "We need to wake up."

Nathan said he fears that if the rest of the country isn't willing to question their beliefs, and if Congress won't make it harder to get weapons, the killing won't stop with Texas. More children will die, more families will be ruined, and America will go numb.

"We will let politicians in Washington use it as back and forth gotchas. We will get on Facebook and one-up each other on Memes and debate back-and-forth in the comments, and then we will forget about it in two weeks, and there will be another school shooting," he said. "What are we going to do? What are we gonna do when it happens in Lexington?"

In 1995, Scott Pennington pleaded guilty but mentally ill and sentenced to life in prison with the chance for parole after 25 years. However, in 2015, he was convicted of attacking a prison cafeteria worker and was sentenced to another 20 years.

By all accounts, he was a very intelligent, good student. It's reported that before the shooting, he was upset with a grade Mrs. McDavid had given him in English.