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Last of Jonesboro victims laid to rest

coffin March 28, 1998
Web posted at: 7:04 p.m. EST (0004 GMT)

JONESBORO, Arkansas (CNN) -- Friends, family and a shocked community said their final goodbyes Saturday to a heroic teacher and two young girls who died Tuesday in the shooting rampage at Westside Middle School.

The funeral for Shannon Wright, 32, the English teacher who was fatally shot while trying to shield her students from gunfire, was held at the church she attended in Bono, a small town outside of Jonesboro. She leaves behind a husband and a 2-year-old son.

"If you want to see a real hero, if you want to hear the voice of an angel, if you want to look courage in the eye, then look no further than Shannon Wright," said the Rev. Bobby Baker.

"There is a community and a nation, I believe, who are grateful for what she has done," Baker said. "She gave her life doing something positive for our children."

Separate funerals were also held Saturday for Stephanie Johnson, 12, and Brittheny Varner, 11.

"This is a tragedy that we wish could be turned about, but it can't," said the Rev. Alvin Swan at Stephanie's service. "Perhaps we can draw strength from this."

Red rose given to Wright's young son

About 600 people attended Wright's service, packing the sanctuary. A closed-circuit monitor was set up in another building to accommodate the overflow crowd. Her service was broadcast over a local radio station.

Later at her graveside, hundreds of people held hands in prayer. Baker gave Wright's husband, Mitchell, a red rose to pass on as a remembrance to their son, Zane, who did not attend the services.

"She was just really sweet, and she really cared about you. I'm going to miss her very much," said a former student, Tabatha Cline, 16.

5 killed, 10 wounded in shooting

The teacher, Stephanie, Brittheny, and two other girls, Natalie Brooks, 11, and Paige Ann Herring, 12, died when two boys allegedly opened fire on students and staff members who were exiting the school because of a fire alarm.

Police say the boys -- Drew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13 -- pulled the alarm to lure the students outside. Ten other students and teachers were wounded. All are expected to survive.

Drew and Mitchell are being held in a juvenile detention facility on five counts each of murder and 10 counts of battery.

Natalie and Paige were buried Friday. On Tuesday, a community-wide "Service for Hope and Healing" will be held at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Gov. Mike Huckabee and Attorney General Janet Reno may attend the event, which begins at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. EST).

'She's so innocent'

grief

Mourners wept softly as sad pop songs played in memory of Stephanie, a dark-haired girl whom classmates called friendly and quiet. A bulletin board showed about three dozen photos, from infancy to a girl not quite a teen-ager.

"When I closed my eyes in remembrance, I [saw] Stephanie and the Lord spoke to me and said, 'She's so innocent,'" Rev. Swan told the crowd of about 200 mourners.

People walked up to the open coffin in groups of three or four as mourners listened to Hootie and the Blowfish's "Let Her Cry," and Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997." Several people cried softly during Puff Daddy's tribute to a fallen friend, "I'll Be Missing You."

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," Swan said to Stephanie's mother, Tina McIntyre. "God gave you Stephanie. You had 12 wonderful years."

At the end of the service, McIntyre stroked her daughter's hair and kissed her on the cheek. She put a baby doll and a teddy bear with a yellow rose tied to it into the casket.

Brittheny 'always bubbly'

Rev. William Holt, Brittheny's minister at Revival Tabernacle Church in Bono, described the young girl as "always bubbly."

"I don't care how low you were, give her two minutes of time, and she would have you lifted back up," he said. "I will miss those hugs. I will miss that little sweet voice telling me she loved me."

At the funeral home, a pink stuffed rabbit was placed inside Brittheny's casket. As mourners filed outside at the conclusion of the service, many were weeping and holding on to each other.

Members of Revival Tabernacle have particularly been struggling to come to terms with the tragedy because one of the accused, Mitchell Johnson, was also a church member.

"It's truly hard. There is no explanation. We never dreamed that Mitch would do anything like this," said church member Belinda Kitchen. "We heard first that Brittheny had passed away, and that was really hard. And then, when we heard that Mitch was one of the ones that done it, it was just devastating."

Clinton: Nation must try making sense of senseless

The Jonesboro shooting was the third fatal multiple shooting at an American school since October 1997. The previous shootings were in Pearl, Mississippi, and West Paducah, Kentucky.

In his Saturday radio address, President Clinton said he has ordered Reno to organize experts on school violence to analyze the recent school shootings, determine what they may have in common and what steps can be taken to reduce the chance of a similar tragedy.
icon 264K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"We do not understand what drives children, whether in small towns or big cities, to pick up guns and take the lives of others. We many never make sense of the senseless, but we have to try," Clinton said.

Correspondents Martin Savidge and Jeff Flock and Reuters contributed to this report

 
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