1998 School Shooting Stuns the Country


Five Killed in Planned Attack

On March 24, 1998 an Arkansas school shooting captured national headlines.  The Columbine shooting was still a year away, and shootings like this were still not common.  But there was another reason this particular incident was so unusual.  It was the age of the perps, two boys 11 and 13 years old.

The shooting occurred at the Westside Middle School in Craighead County, Arkansas.  The two shooters, Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, had carefully planned the deadly assault.  Golden had stolen a veritable arsenal from his grandfather including a Remington semiautomatic 30-06 rifle, and M1 Carbine, a Ruger .44 magnum rifle and at least 7 pistols.  He also stole over 2,000 rounds of assorted ammunition. 

The boys loaded the arsenal into Johnson’s mother’s car the night before the shooting.  They stole the car the next morning and drove to the school.  Upon arrival they surreptitiously took the weapons and ammo into the woods and set up a sniper position.  The young perps fully intended on escaping, parking the car in a location that they could escape to and stocking it with food and camping supplies. 

At 12:30 Andrew Golden pulled the fire alarm and ran out to their hidden position where Mitchell Johnson was waiting with the guns.  As students evacuated they ran into a hail of gunfire.  In the carnage that ensued, four students and one teacher were killed. Nine other students and one other teacher were shot and injured. 

Golden and Johnson attempted to make their way back to their van to escape.  Police responding to the scene, saw them and quickly made an arrest.  The two did not resist, and were captured uninjured about 10 minutes after the first shots were fired. 

The pair never fully explained the motivation for their actions.  Both arrested for murder, the two were the youngest ever to face a homicide charge in the United States.  They were convicted and sentenced to prison until their 21st birthdays, which was the maximum sentence in Arkansas at the time.  The seeming leniency of the sentences caused outrage around the State of Arkansas and brought about legal changes to juvenile justice laws.  

Christopher Flanagan


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