Actions have consequences: Students learn important lesson from a man who made a nearly fatal choice

Tommy Carnline spoke to the eight grade classes at Natchitoches Magnet School about choices, consequences and overcoming obstacles. He was injured in a shooting accident when he was 15. Photo by Carolyn Roy

By Carolyn Roy,

It wasn’t the usual talk about making the right choices and the consequences that follow when you make the wrong ones. Tommy Carnline can certainly speak to the latter. Easter Sunday will be the 41st anniversary of Carline having made a monumental and life-changing wrong choice. He spoke at length about that Tuesday to the eight graders at Natchitoches Magnet School. It was Easter Sunday in 1978 in the small community of Shamrock, near Marthaville, where 15-year-old Tommy Carnline had spent the day with relatives.

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“I loved guns,” he says in describing a favorite stunt with a gun in which he would draw, cock, twirl and then reholster. He strapped on what he called a “shooter rig”, or belt, and remembered his father telling him, “Put that gun up.” The unloaded pistol then went into the trunk of the car. Later that day, Carnline and relatives decided to go to a nearby creek, and like most Southern men, a relative told him to grab the gun in case they saw a snake. He wasn’t aware that the gun had been reloaded. “Let me show you this cool trick,” he said as he drew the pistol, twirled it on his finger and touched the trigger.

This article detailing the incident that changed Tommy Carnline’s life appeared in the Natchitoches Times in March 1978.

The .22 caliber bullet fired and struck near his collarbone, ricocheted, severed his carotid artery, struck his lung and liver and lodged in his spinal cord, at chest level. “I never heard the gun go off. I knew I was shot but I didn’t know where,” he related to the uncharacteristically quiet eighth graders. Carnahan described the divine intervention he believes caused the artery to clot, the trip to the Natchitoches Parish Hospital and then to a Shreveport hospital where he underwent surgery.

“The choice I made, I went against what my father told me to do. I reset my choices.” He stressed to the students, “I want you to understand that everything you do has consequences.” Carnline’s indomitable spirit prevailed. He finished high school with his class. He recalled how the football players would carry him upstairs long before there were handicap accessible buildings. He had been a wrestler and credits his excellent physical condition as one reason for his recovery. He graduated from Northwestern State and in 1990 followed his dream of a being a law enforcement officer when he joined the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office. He began as a shift communications officer and was promoted to corporal, sergeant and captain, becoming the public information officer. He was a member of the SWAT team as the communications officer.

He retired earlier this year and is now a candidate for sheriff of Rapides Parish. His life has been a testament to his creed of never giving up. Carnline’s other message to the students was the importance of building a foundation. “No matter if you are a maintenance man or an astronaut, you must have a foundation.” He had many words of wisdom for the students. There are bad people in every walk of life. Things happen for a reason. Trust in God. Have faith. You never run out of obstacles. It’s how we overcome them that makes us what we are. You’ve always got to try.

Among his favorites is, “Quitters never win and winners never quit,” a slogan that was posted in the locker room at Natchitoches Central High School when he was a wrestler, prior to the accident.

Carnline spoke to the Magnet School students at the request of his brother, Robert, a social studies and ELA teacher at the Magnet School. “I have him come speak every year since my students will be heading to NCHS next year,” Robert said. “I want them to know about actions, choices and consequences and overcoming obstacles.”

One student, D.J. Rager, said, “I really enjoyed hearing what your brother said.”  Another student, Jame Benjamin, said, “He really gave me a lot to think about.”

Another student, Rylan Babers said, “This was the best speaker.”   Codie Goings, the eight grade science teacher, told Tommy, “I truly enjoyed listening to your message you shared today with our students.  Thank you for being a positive light for them.”