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Jonesboro pastors urge forgiveness

Scenes from Sunday services  

Classes resume Monday at Westside Middle School

March 29, 1998
Web posted at: 7:57 p.m. EST (0057 GMT)

JONESBORO, Arkansas (CNN) -- Messages of forgiveness, hope and thanks rang from pulpits around Jonesboro, as the faithful gathered for the first Sunday services since a deadly school shooting rocked the community.

"We refuse to be paralyzed by fear," said the Rev. Rodney Reeves at Central Baptist Church. "Our God is so great and so good that he can take something so evil as the slaughter of innocence and turn it for good."

At Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, where little girls handed stones to arriving parishioners, Deacon Victor J. Stepka gave a message on the theme of "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

"We must use authority at least to try to understand and mend the person who has made a mistake," he said.

At the First Baptist Church, the Rev. Bruce Tippitt called for a moment of quiet affirmation for the doctors, nurses and emergency workers who helped treat the wounded at Westside Middle School.

"On one hand, what they would've said is they were just doing their job, but they did it in a time when the need was so great," Tippitt said.

At the Fullness of Joy Church, a special offering was collected Sunday for the school and the families of the victims. Pastor Adrian Rogers said the tragedy had pulled together people of all different faiths.

"The city has come together for strength and to rally -- that is a good thing," Rogers said.

Johnson and Golden
Johnson and Golden  

On Tuesday, a special communitywide "Service of Hope and Healing" will be held at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

Classes resume Monday at Westside

After a weekend of funerals and tears, classes will resume Monday at Westside, where four students and one teacher died and 10 others were injured by gunfire last Tuesday. Two Westside students -- Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11 -- are being held on murder charges.

Under Arkansas law, the boys are too young to be tried as adults. If found responsible in juvenile court, they would likely be held until they are 18, although it is possible they could be held until they are 21.

As their classmates return, Johnson and Golden won't simply be sitting in their cells at Craighead County's juvenile detention center. Provisions are being made to teach them in a classroom setting, albeit one behind bars, as required under Arkansas law.

Charges against parents possible, but unlikely

On Sunday, Arkansas Attorney General Winston Bryant said Johnson and Golden's parents could face legal charges if their children are found responsible in juvenile court. However, speaking on ABC's "This Week," Bryant said that it was more likely the parents would face civil action.

He said Arkansas law allows civil lawsuits to be brought against parents for the actions of their children, in which damages could be recovered.

Jeff Sessions

"We also have a law on the books ... that in juvenile court, if a youngster is found to be delinquent, the parents can be required to perform public service along with the juvenile," Bryant said.

While he said his office would explore every option available, "I really think it's more of a civil action by a private attorney and not the responsibility, and probably outside the jurisdiction, of the attorney general's office," Bryant said.

Johnson and Golden will face an adjudication hearing on April 29, where the judge will determine guilt or innocence, Bryant told "This Week." If they are found guilty, the boys would be sentenced either at the end of the hearing or within 14 days, he said.

Correspondents John Holliman and Tony Clark contributed to this report.


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