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Funerals for 2 Jonesboro girls to be held Friday

grief In this story: March 26, 1998
Web posted at: 9:05 p.m. EST (0205 GMT)

JONESBORO, Arkansas (CNN) -- Funerals for two girls killed in the Arkansas school shooting will be held Friday as children at Westside Middle School and their parents try to come to terms with a tragedy that left five people dead and 10 wounded.

Separate services will be held for Natalie Brooks, 11, and Paige Ann Herring, 12. On Saturday, separate services are set for Stephanie Johnson, 12, and Brittheny R. Varner, 11.

Funeral arrangements for Shannon Wright, a 32-year-old teacher who stepped into the line of fire to shield a student and was killed, have not been announced.

Johnson and Golden
Mitchell Johnson (L) and Andrew Golden in undated yearbook photos  

The five were killed by two heavily armed boys who fired on them from nearby woods while students and teachers stood outside the school during a false fire alarm.

Authorities played a tape Thursday of several calls made to 911 moments after the shooting began, and on one a frantic woman told a dispatcher the shots "came from everywhere."

"We need an ambulance as soon as possible," she said. "There's been blood loss. People with blood lost."

Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, were captured behind the school shortly after the shootings. They each face five counts of capital murder and 10 counts of battery.

Grandfather says Golden pulled alarm

Golden's grandfather says Andrew admits pulling the fire alarm and running into the woods before the shooting. But he and his wife said their grandson told them he did not remember anything after that.
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Audio of the 911 tapes
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Doug Golden told CNN that his grandson got to know Johnson, who the grandfather described as a "bully," on the school bus. Golden said he had urged his grandson to stand up to Johnson.

The Rev. Johnny Watkins of Nettleton Baptist Church characterized Johnson as a "gangster wannabe" who thought of himself as a member of the Bloods. He also said Johnson wore a lot of red.

Watkins said children in the boy's youth group told him that Johnson had been making threats about teacher Sara Thetford for months. Thetford, 42 was injured during the shooting and is hospitalized in stable condition.

Johnson also reportedly made threats about people dying at school the day before the shooting, and reportedly threatened one boy with a knife.

van
Authorities found several weapons in this van  

Sheriff Dale Haas told reporters he visited the boys in the detention center Thursday. They are being held in separate cells and are unable to communicate with each other. Haas said they were dressed in orange jumpsuits and shower slippers and appeared to be frightened.

"Keep in mind these are little boys, y'all," he said. "One little boy asked me some scriptural thoughts, and the other one is real emotional and was crying. He wants his mama, and he wants to go home."
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He said he gave one of the boys a Bible.

'Why' and 'Is my school safe?'

All but 43 of the school's 250 students returned for classes Thursday, many of them wearing white ribbons and accompanied by nervous parents. They spent most of the day in counseling sessions with a team of nearly 50 psychiatrists to help them deal with their traumatic experience.

No lessons were taught and all outdoor activities were canceled, including recess. Students made cards for the 10 people who were wounded, including the five still hospitalized. St. Bernard's Hospital said three students and one teacher remain in stable condition. Another student, Brittney Lambie, was listed as critical.

Principal Karen Curtner said "Why?" and "Is my school safe?" were the most common questions from the students.

"There is certainly anger, confusion, shock, disbelief, sadness," said Scott Poland, who led the counseling effort. "All of those. And different children will have different feelings."

"It scares you real bad," said Erica Swindle, 12, who saw a friend die. "I could have been shot in the back."

One of the wounded students, Tristian McGowan, returned with his arm in a sling and was surrounded by friends who tried to console and reassure him.

A girl whose life was saved when Wright, her homeroom teacher, pushed her out of the line of fire said Thursday that Johnson had threatened to kill a girl who he fancied was his girlfriend.

"Candace Porter was his ex-girlfriend," said Emma Pittman. "He had been making threats that week that 'If you break up with me I'm going to kill you and I'm going to kill everybody in this school. I'm sick of getting detention,' stuff like that. We all thought he was blowing off steam."

Porter, who was hit by a bullet in a rib on her right side, was not seriously wounded and was allowed to leave St. Bernard's Hospital Thursday. Her mother, Kim Porter, said Wednesday she was not aware that her daughter had any relationship with Johnson.

'A very solid case'

Under Arkansas law, the boys can only be tried under relatively lenient laws governing juveniles, but prosecutors are studying federal and state statutes looking for a way to try them as adults.

Extra

  • Interactive Map: Recent shootings at U.S. schools

  • Statistics: School violence at a glance

  • Message Boards: Are our schools safe?
  • Arkansas Attorney General Winston Bryant said it was still possible that Johnson could be tried as an adult but added, "I don't see a possibility for the 11-year-old to be tried in any circumstance other than through the juvenile justice system."

    Their fate will be determined at an April 29 hearing. If they are tried as juveniles and found to be delinquent, they could remain behind bars only until they are 18 or, at the most, 21. An adult found guilty of capital murder in Arkansas would face either life in prison or execution.

    State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Thursday investigators are "very satisfied with the way the investigation is going. They believe they have a very solid case that cannot be challenged by anyone."

    U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said her department is working with U.S. Attorney Paula Casey in Little Rock on whether the boys can be charged under federal law.

    Among the possible federal charges are possession of firearms by a juvenile, bringing guns into a school zone and possession of stolen weapons.

    'We feel real bad for everyone'

    Doug Golden said three of the rifles found when the boys were arrested were stolen from him. He said the youngsters first tried to break into a gun vault belonging to Andrew Golden's father.

    When they failed to get into the vault, the grandfather said, they took three handguns and went to the grandfather's house and stole the rifles. Golden said one of the guns stolen from him, a 30.06 with a telescope, was extremely accurate and could hit a target 200 yards away.

    Golden said his grandson started hunting "when he was still in diapers" and used a BB gun while duck hunting with his father.

    Golden's parents are both postmasters and members of a pistol club where they participate in shooting competitions. A member of the shooting club said Andrew Golden was a good shot and he is reported to have recently killed his first duck.

    Johnson's parents are divorced and he lives with his mother, who is remarried. A former friend in Minnesota told reporters Wednesday that Johnson was despondent over his break-up with a girl last summer and talked of suicide.

    Schoolmates said Johnson, who moved to the area a few years ago after his parents divorced, told them he had "a lot of killing to do" and that he was angry at a girl for breaking up with him.

    'Maybe he'll show some remorse...'

    Johnson's father, Scott, a truck driver, said Thursday he is not being allowed to see his son. "All I can say is we feel real bad for everyone," he said.
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    Buster Johnson, Mitchell Johnson's grandfather, said Thursday, "The thing I don't understand is why it happened, how it could happen."

    He said he hoped to visit his grandson soon. "I guess I'm just going to give him a hug and tell him I love him and hope that out of this maybe he'll show some remorse and maybe a slight explanation of what happened."

    Correspondents Charles Zewe and Pierre Thomas and Reuters contributed to this report.

     
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