Judge orders boys held in Arkansas shooting
Mitchell Johnson (L) and Andrew Golden in undated yearbook photos
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March 26, 1998
Web posted at: 7:12 a.m. EST (1212 GMT)
JONESBORO, Arkansas (CNN) -- Children are returning to Westside Middle School today for the first time since four of their classmates and one of their teachers died in an ambush. A juvenile court judge on Wednesday ordered two boys accused of the killing held until April 29, when they may be formally charged with capital murder and first-degree battery for the attack which also wounded 10 students. Counselors will be in all the classrooms to help children cope with coming back to the school.
Judge Ralph Wilson ruled there was sufficient evidence to keep the boys behind bars until the hearing, Prosecutor Brent Davis said.
Davis told reporters that evidence was presented to support charges of capital murder and aggravated battery against the boys, identified as Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11.
The two cannot be tried as adults under Arkansas law, but could be held as juvenile delinquents until age 18.
Under state law, children under age 14 are charged only in
Juvenile Court. They may be held until they are 21, but usually are turned out of the system by 18 because of a lack of facilities.
Davis said that under juvenile law, the limitations on the kind of punishment available in this case "are pretty severe." (281 K / 22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
But he added, "There are still options that we are looking at with regard to one or both the individuals being pursued as adults. But at the present time, we have not gotten all our information in on that particular issue."
It is also possible that the boys could be charged in federal court. U.S. Attorney Paula Casey has said her office is exploring whether any federal charges could be filed against the youths and that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno considers the case a priority.
Wednesday evening, students,parents, teachers and counselors gathered with
law enforcement authorities to discuss what had happened, and try to get
answers to questions that were on many minds. Police spokesman Bill Saddler
said that many in the crowd were "visibly shaken, tearful...there were people
who were trying to smile". He said that students at this meeting asked some
very good questions, showing concern for what will happen the next time
the school conducts a scheduled fire drill, and concern for the family of
slain teacher Shannon Wright.
When the subject turned to the possibility that the suspects, if found
guilty, could be released at age 18, Saddler said, "There was an air of disappointment in the gymnasium room, when prosecutor Davis explained to them that this could be a possible scenario. He (Davis) also made it very clear, that that is not a fact that's written in stone."
Boys sit quietly at hearing
Johnson and Golden are accused of killing four of their classmates, all girls, and an English teacher during a false fire alarm outside Westside Middle School Tuesday. Ten other people were wounded. Five students and a teacher are still in the hospital. One of the students is listed in critical condition, and doctors said her condition was improving.
Representatives of the local news media were allowed to sit in on the hearing Wednesday and said Johnson and Golden sat quietly, showing no reaction to the charges against them.
Sheriff Dale Haas said the parents of the boys were allowed to see them before the hearing. He said the boys were being kept separated.
Killed were Natalie Brooks, 11, Paige Ann Herring 12, Stephanie Johnson, 12, and Brittheny R. Varner, 11. Shannon Wright, 32, the mother of a 2 1/2-year-old son, died Tuesday night after surgery for wounds to her chest and abdomen. Students said the teacher stepped in front of a sixth-grader as the shots rang out. The student was not hurt.
Police seized 10 hunting rifles following the shootings, in which students and teachers streaming out of the school were met with rapid bursts of gunfire from the camouflage-clad boys hidden in a nearby woods. But contrary to earlier police reports, Gary Etter of the Craighead County Sheriff's Department said no assault weapons were found.
Authorities want to know how Johnson and Golden got their weapons and why they attacked. Police said Johnson had been jilted by a girl and made threats, and that Golden activated a school fire alarm that brought everyone outside.
Suspects from church-going families
Larry Russell escorts his sons Tommy (L) and Cody at Westside Middle School to see where the shooting happened
Investigators confirmed that Johnson's father rushed to the school after hearing of the shootings, concerned that his son might be a victim. It took him two hours to find out that his son was one of the suspects.
Etter said the two boys come from church-going families with a long and active tradition of game hunting.
Mitchell Johnson's parents are both postmasters, Etter said, and his grandfather works for the Arkansas State Wildlife Commission, which regulates hunting.
Etter said Golden also comes from a two-income, middle-class family. There were reports that Golden bragged about having a hunting rifle and talked about bringing it to school and using it.
Terry Crider, a family friend and member of a local shooting club, said Golden's father, Dennis, is a leader of the Jonesboro Practical Pistol Shooters and began taking his son hunting as a young child.
Crider said Andrew Golden had recently begun "practical shooting" training, a handgun competition which uses moving and pop-up targets. He said the boy was a pretty good shot, although fairly slow.
Survivor's mother feels 'guilty'
Golden's parents "have tried as hard as any parents to raise their child right, teach him respect for life, teach him what firearms can do and how to handle them safely," Crider said.
Now, he said, "They're trying seriously to get their heads together and figure out what happened themselves."
Students described Johnson as a troubled boy who had recently begun bragging about involvement with a gang and was upset over a breakup with a girlfriend, Kim Candace Porter, who was among the wounded. Students said he made numerous threats Monday.
"He told us that tomorrow you will find out if you live or
die," seventh-grader Melinda Henson told a local newspaper.
"He told me yesterday that all the people who broke up with him, you know, he's going to come to school tomorrow and shoot them," said 12-year-old Charles Vanoven, another seventh-grader.
Vanoven said Johnson also pulled a knife on another student Monday, but that he was afraid to report him. Other students said Johnson specifically targeted Porter.
"He said he was definitely going to shoot Candace because she
had broken up with him," sixth-grader Kara Tate, 11, told the paper.
Kim Porter, Candace's mother, said her daughter is doing well following surgery.
"I feel guilty," she told reporters. "I still have my baby. There are other mothers who don't."