Former addict who shot face off to speak to Mississippi students

Published 6:05 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Hundreds of Mississippi high school students will hear the grisly tale of a methamphetamine user whose addiction led him to blow his face off with an assault rifle.

David Parnell of Martin, Tenn., who has traveled around the country sharing his personal account of the consequences of drugs, will speak at the City Auditorium in Vicksburg on Tuesday.

He’ll make his presentation to students at Vicksburg High School and Warren Central High School on Wednesday, and visit Porter’s Chapel Academy and St. Aloysius High School, both in Warren County, on Thursday.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

His graphic presentation includes crime scene photographs of himself after he had attempted suicide in 2003. It also will feature before and after photographs of drug users that show the havoc meth wreaks on the body and the corpses of people killed in meth-lab explosions.

“It’s a pretty graphic presentation so what we decided to do was have him come and offer it publicly prior to him going to the high schools,” said Vicksburg Warren public schools superintendent James Price. “If I’ve got 2,000 high school students and he has an impact on even one of them, it was worth him coming.”

Price said parents will be sent permission slips on Tuesday and they can decide if they want their children to attend.

Parnell said he began using meth when was 21 and living in Texas. He later moved to Tennessee, where drugs were harder to find so it was a few years before he resumed his habit.

Methamphetamine, which can come in the form of a crystal-like powder or rock-like chunks, is an addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally. Its street names include “ice,” “crystal,” “speed” and “tina.”

Meth addiction eventually caused Parnell to bankrupt his family and in February 2003, his wife, Amy, told him she was going to take their six children and leave.

“I reached over her and grabbed the SKS assault rifle and put it under my chin and I really thought that was just it,” Parnell said in a telephone interview. “This dope had taken everything away from me and I was convinced my wife and kids would be better off without me.”

Though the bullet nearly destroyed Parnell’s face, shattering every bone except his left eye socket, he survived.

He underwent several reconstructive surgeries and less than a year after the shooting, he began his crusade against drug use. In 2005, he visited over 150 high schools and had over 200 presentations.

“I have people call me all the time,” Parnell said. “At one school, their entire 11th-grade class pledged not to use drugs.”

In recent years, some states have experienced an increase in the use of meth among teenagers, but Price said prescription drugs, including OxyContin, have become the problem in his district.

Price, who oversees a 9,200-student district, said each year a few students are suspended or expelled over drug possession or drug selling.

“It comes from the drug cabinets of parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles,” Price said. “They take them and that’s the gateway to something else.”

Parnell said the Warren County district is the first in Mississippi to invite him to speak. The visit was sponsored by several groups including the Warren County Medical Association, the local drug court and the Make A Promise Coalition.

On the Net:

David Parnell:

Make A Promise Coalition: