TRAGEDY IN ARKANSAS
March 25, 1998
The NewsHour reports on the shooting at an Arkansas middle school. Two school boys set off the school's fire alarm, waited in the woods, and then fired shots at their classmates and teachers. Four students and a teacher were killed and others were wounded.
KWAME HOLMAN: This was the scene yesterday at Westside Middle School in rural Jonesboro, Arkansas, Northeast of Little Rock. Two schoolboys, ages 13 and 11, reportedly set off the school's fire alarm, waited in the woods, then fired multiple high caliber rounds at their classmates and teachers. Four children and a teacher were killed, ten children and another teacher were wounded. Six of them remain hospitalized, one in critical condition. Dale Haas is Craigshead County Sheriff.
DALE HAAS, Craigshead County Sheriff: It looks like at this time that somebody pulled a fire alarm and right behind the school in the wood lines there, there was a couple of boys up there in camouflage, a couple of white males in camouflage clothing, real young boys. When the fire alarm went off, the kids run outside. And what it looks like right now, they started shooting at the children. Thirteen children got hit. I know of one looks he dead--(voice breaking)--okay.
JEREMY WHITE, Eyewitness: I saw a teacher go down and kids gather around, and then they started running, and the kids started falling down one by one. Most of them made it, but some of them didn't.
KWAME HOLMAN: The two boys accused of the shootings are identified in press accounts as Andrew Golden, 13, and his 11-year-old cousin, Mitchell Johnson. Authorities say the boys were armed with high-powered rifles and handguns.
DALE HAAS: The two boys we mentioned was running from an area in the woods lot behind the school, and they were apprehended by the officers. Whenever I got there, naturally, it was chaos, and there was--we were the first ones there. And I didn't even have a count at that time, but they were laid all over the place on the ground.
KWAME HOLMAN: Those who died were Natalie Brooks, Page Ann Herring, and Stephanie Johnson, all 12, and Brittany Varner, 11. Thirty-two-year-old teacher Shannon Wright reportedly was killed while trying to shield a student from the gunfire. Parents in the town of 52,000 rushed to the school yesterday as news of the shootings spread. Westside students said the 13-year-old suspect threatened violence after breaking up with his girlfriend, who is one of the wounded.
JENNIFER NIGHTINGALE, Eyewitness: This one boy, the boy who supposedly, I guess, planned it all, had said that, "Nobody's gonna break up with me," and he said the only reason why he was doing this is because she'd broken up with him, and he's gonna kill her.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, Jonesboro District Attorney Brent Davis spoke to reporters.
BRENT DAVIS, Jonesboro District Attorney: We're trying to determine as to what caused--what was the cause. As I indicated yesterday, I think there is always a searching at this stage in something of this nature for a logical explanation for why something like this happens. And I seriously doubt in a case of this nature that there will be a logical explanation or determination as to why this occurred.
REPORTER: What's the demeanor of the two suspects?
BRENT DAVIS: I haven't had any contact with the two suspects personally, so I couldn't comment on that.
REPORTER: --capital murder charges, does that mean your--your track for his course is to try them as adults, to seek the court's permission to try them as adults?
BRENT DAVIS: We are looking at all avenues and all options, but if they are charged in juvenile court, that is not an option that is available to us to prosecute them as adults.
REPORTER: But can't you ask for relief for that, to bring them charges--charges as adults?
BRENT DAVIS: We are looking at all avenues available to us, but I'm not aware of any avenue under Arkansas law that would allow us to request and try someone under the age of 14 as an adult.
REPORTER: Any clue who pulled the fire alarm? Is there a search for a third person involved?
BRENT DAVIS: All of that information, as far as any third individual involved, there is no information that I'm aware of that that is a--is a likelihood or even a serious matter for investigation at this point, although all information that becomes available will be processed. As far as who pulled the fire alarm, that's something that is still an ongoing part of the investigation.
REPORTER: Did both of the boys pull the--did both of the boys pull the triggers? Were both shooters?
BRENT DAVIS: I don't have direct information. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on that at this time.
REPORTER: How many guns were recovered? And could you be specific on the type of weapons.
BRENT DAVIS: I know multiple guns have been recovered. I think, as was indicated yesterday. Some of those guns were long guns, rifles, and some of those are handguns.
BRENT DAVIS: I just know there were multiple guns involved.
REPORTER: Where did they get the guns?
BRENT DAVIS: I'm not sure on that.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, Westside principal Karen Curtner said classes will resume tomorrow as the community struggles to make semblance of what happened.
KAREN CURTNER, Principal, Westside Middle School: It was devastating. It was very shocking. It was something that I never anticipated occurring.
REPORTER: You had some brave teachers out there, though.
KAREN CURTNER: I would like to thank everybody. We had teachers that put theirselves in danger to go out and help those others that were wounded. We have a great staff here. We had not received any indication or advanced notification prior to this incident. If any threat had been brought to my attention, it would have been dealt with appropriately.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late today, District Attorney Davis announced the two boys were charged with five counts of capital murder and ten counts of first degree battery. He said authorities still are determining whether the two boys can be charged as adults. Meanwhile, members of the community laid flowers at the entrance to the school, where the flag flew at half mast.