LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – March 24, 1998, started as just another day in Arkansas — until the news came in from outside Jonesboro.

It was a typical early-spring Tuesday, warm and sunny. Gov. Mike Huckabee had recently announced his intention to run for governor.

Then the news came from Westside, a school district outside Jonesboro. Students had been shot.

A fire alarm sounded at the Westside Middle School, not far from Bono, at 12:35 p.m. Students and teachers responded appropriately. They walked outside in orderly lines, the outside doors locking behind them to prevent reentry, a safety feature to keep intruders out.

Students and teachers said they heard popping sounds and there was confusion, some thinking it was firecrackers or some nearby construction.

The reality was much worse, however. The popping sounds were gunshots coming from a nearby wooded area.

A teacher still inside the school opened a locked door and students were able to come back inside to the school’s gymnasium to take shelter. The students said they heard bullets hitting the outside walls of the building while taking cover.

Within 10 minutes of the first sounds of gunfire, Jonesboro police arrested two boys, who were students at the school.

Investigators said 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden had loaded the Johnson family van that morning with a cache of guns taken from Golden’s grandfather. They laid the guns out in the wooded area above the school and Golden pulled the fire alarm, leading to students coming outside as he ran to join Johnson.

Four students — Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring, Stephanie Johnson and Brittheny Varner — were dead, along with teacher Shannon Wright. Nine other students and one teacher were injured.


The tragedy that spring day in 1998 continued to shake the community in the years to come.

Rick Elliott was the Jonesboro Chief of Police in 2018, but two decades earlier was a sergeant on duty when the shooting happened. The continued memories after 20 years still haunted him.

“To look out at kids everywhere that’s been hurt, it’s just a big shock. It weighs heavy on you, and it weighs heavy on me today,” Elliot said in 2018.

Crystal Scott was a student at the time of the shooting and recalled the confusion during the tragedy.

“I didn’t know exactly what was going on,” she recalled in an interview on the 20th anniversary of the event. “We thought it was firecrackers at first, that’s what it sounded like, until we saw the classmates on the ground and blood.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Community remembers Westside Middle School shooting 20 years later

Johnson and Golden were sentenced to confinement after the shooting until they reached 21, in 2005 and 2007 respectively. It was the maximum sentence for minors under Arkansas law at the time, which had no legal provisions for underage murderers.  

Johnson was later sentenced to 12 years in federal prison in a 2008 conviction, with four years added later for drug and firearms convictions. He was reportedly released to the U.S. Probation Office and placed in a drug rehabilitation program in 2015.

Golden changed his name to Drew Grant. He was denied an Arkansas concealed carry permit in 2008 and later died in a traffic accident in 2019.


The deadly shooting at Westside Middle School was not the first school shooting in the United States, and sadly would not be the last.

Just two months after the Westfield shooting, a school shooting in Springfield, Oregon, left two dead and 25 others injured. Then in April of 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Colorado killed 12 students, a teacher and then themselves in a shooting and attempted bombing that left another 21 people injured.

Coast to coast, shootings have continued in schools like Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Marjory Stoneman Douglas high in Florida and Robb Elementary in Texas. Just two days ago, a 17-year-old student shot two school administrators in Denver.

School life has changed in response to these incidents and others like them. Law enforcement and first responders now train in rapid-response tactics against active shooters.

Schools hold active shooter training drills, with students locking doors and, in some cases, improvising weapons. Metal detectors on school grounds are common, and children’s book bags with built-in body armor are widely available.


School continues at Westside. Today, the 25th anniversary of the shooting, is also the final day of Spring Break, and students and teachers will be back in class Monday morning.

Westside continues to recover. The school ranks in the top 50% of middle schools in the state for academics. The Westside Consolidated School District has elementary through high school classes, with a May 20 graduation on the academic calendar.

A memorial garden at Westside marks the site where the shootings took place, four pillars surrounding a center pillar symbolizing the students and teacher lost that day.