MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY – First responders and law enforcement officers descended on Heath High School the day 14-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on a prayer group, killing three girls and injuring five other students.

Former McCracken County coroner, and current commissioner, Jerry Beyer played a vital role in collecting evidence and building a case for court.

Decades later, Beyer easily remembers the crime scene he walked into that day.

“Yes, it’s been 20 years, but you have flashbacks,” Beyer explained.

He has vivid memories of where Michael Carneal opened fire on students praying in the school lobby, killing three and injuring five on Dec. 1, 1997.

What followed involved documenting, photographing, and collecting evidence for Beyer and others.

“That’s me, Jon Hayden, and see, we just took masking tape and masked off that,” Beyer said, pointing to pictures and video of the crime scene that day.

As then chief deputy coroner, Beyer divided the area into grids.

“But this is a lobby of that high school, which was 42 feet by 48 feet, and there was evidence that was collected in every corner of that lobby,” Beyer said.

It’s a lobby he didn’t return to until just recently to attend an awards ceremony for his granddaughter.

“I stepped in the lobby, and I lost it,” Beyer said. “I had to go back over in that corner and cry like a baby. It’s the first time I’d been back in there.”

As victims’ family members mark the 20th anniversary of the shooting, Beyer says the entire community does too.

“We have grown from this. We’ll never be the same. We’ll never have the benefits that those three girls could have contributed to our community,” Beyer said. “But we have those memories — and that we have, difficult memories and sad memories — but I’m sure those families also have some good memories of their children.”

“They’re remembering how brilliant their, their children were, and how beautiful they were, and the good things they were doing,” Beyer said. “If nothing else, this community is a better community today. We work harder at protecting our children and our schools.”

It’s a community bonded in tragedy, but never letting it define the place we all call home.

Beyer spent more than three decades in the McCracken County Coroner’s Office. He currently serves as a county commissioner.

Over the years, Beyer has traveled the country presenting his findings from the Heath High School shooting to various groups.