The Jonesboro School Massacre: Young Boys Massacre Their School
Mitchell Johnson (13) and Andrew Golden (11) attended Westside Middle School together.
However, they were never close friends. According to teachers, they had complete opposite personalities. Johnson had a very respectful personality and never caused trouble. However, Golden would often spark fights with other students, used foul language, and spoke about killing.
3 months before the incident, Golden began talking about wanting to kill students. A school counselor questioned Golden about this apparent plan, but Golden reassured them that he was way too scared to follow through. Meanwhile, Johnson somehow also on climbed on board with the idea of killing students. Throughout a month’s time, he continuously stole his grandfather’s firearms to load up on his future weapons.
A day before the incident, Johnson began warning people about his homicidal plan with Golden. He told his former girlfriend not to come to school the following day. “I have a lot of killing to do”, he allegedly explained. That night, Golden assisted Johnson as they loaded Johnson’s mother’s car with snacks, sleeping bags, survival goods, 9 weapons, and a plethora of ammunition.
On March 24th, 1998, the boys set their plan in motion. Johnson and Golden deliberately missed their bus so they could drive the gun-filled car to their school. Just after 12:30pm, Golden pulled the fire alarm as Johnson toted of the weapons into the woods. Then Golden ran back to the woods and assumed position beside Johnson.
At 12:41pm, students and teachers began flooding out of the fire exit door. At first, teachers believed that the firecracker sounds were a tactic to scare the students into moving quicker during the fire drill. Other students thought the sounds were from nearby construction workers. However, the sight of students hitting the ground and crying in pain reassured everyone that this was not a drill.
Some students and teachers took shelter in the gymnasium where bullets were heard ricocheting against the brick walls.
In the midst of the panic, one student told a teacher that they believed one of the shooters was Mitchell Johnson because he had previously been warning students.
Four students and one teacher were killed. Their names were Shannon Wright, 32 (teacher); Stephanie Johnson, 12 (no relation to Mitchell Johnson); Natalie Brooks, 11; Paige Ann Herring, 12; and Brittney Varner, 11. An additional nine students and one teacher were injured. One of the injured students was Golden’s own cousin.
The boys tried to run back to the car and escape, but were apprehended by police. Both were charged as juveniles due to their ages.
During Johnson’s trial, he addressed the court with a handwritten letter. It said, “Hi. My name is Mitchell. My thoughts and prayers are with those people who were killed, or shot, and their families. I am really sad inside about everything. My thoughts and prayers are with those kids that I go to school with. I really want people to know the real Mitchell someday. Sincerely, Mitchell Johnson.”
A judge sentenced the 11 and 13 year old to be imprisoned until they were 21 years old. Their records were also established to be sealed once they were released.
Mitchell Johnson update: In 2005, Johnson was released from prison on his 21st birthday. In 2007, he got in legal trouble for possessing a firearm and marijuana while hanging out with one of his cellmates from the youth corrections facility he was housed in. In 2008, he faced another possession of marijuana charge. Johnson also admitted to stealing a credit card that belonged to a disabled man. A judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison and said, “No matter your sentence, you still have a life; those killed in 1998 do not.” Despite his new sentence, he did not serve 18 years. Instead, he was released into the custody of the United States Probation Office for the Southern District of Texas and placed in a drug rehabilitation program.
Andrew Golden update: In 2007, Golden was released from prison on his 21st birthday. He was able to legally change his name to Drew Douglas Grant. After his release, Golden (now Grant) attempted to obtain a gun, but was denied when it was discovered that he failed to list the local prison as one of his previous residences. In 2019, Golden (now Grant) was killed in a head-on collision.