Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden
|Criminal charge||1998: 5 counts of murder, 10 counts aggravated assault|
2007: drug possession, unlawful firearm possession
2008: theft, financial identity fraud, drug possession
|Penalty||1998: Incarceration until age 18 and to 21 on federal charges|
2008: 4-year federal sentence + 18-year state sentence
|Born||May 25, 1986|
Jonesboro, Arkansas, United States
|Other names||Drew Douglas Grant|
|Parent(s)||Jacqueline and Dennis Golden|
|Criminal charge||Murder, attempted murder, unlawful firearm possession|
|Penalty||Incarceration until age 18 and to 21 on federal charges|
Mitchell Scott Johnson (born August 11, 1984) and Andrew Douglas Golden (born May 25, 1986) are former middle school students and the 13 and 11 year old perpetrators, respectively, of the March 24, 1998 massacre at Westside Middle School in unincorporated Craighead County, Arkansas near the city of Jonesboro. Johnson and Golden fatally shot four students and a teacher with multiple weapons, and both were arrested when they attempted to flee the scene. Ten others were wounded in the shooting. Both Golden and Johnson were charged with the five murders and 10 injuries that were caused by the shooting, and were imprisoned until each turned 21 years of age.
Mitchell Scott Johnson was born in Grand Meadow, Minnesota to Gretchen and Scott Johnson. When Mitchell was seven, his parents divorced, and he and his brother moved with their mother to Jonesboro, Arkansas. His mother soon remarried to Terry Woodward, an inmate at the prison where she was a guard. Johnson had a good relationship with his stepfather and brother, and adults who remembered him described him as being quiet and respectful. He was a former member of the Central Baptist Church youth choir, later joining the youth group at the Revival Tabernacle Church, in Jonesboro.
Following the shooting, Johnson's attorney claimed that he had been sexually abused when he was 6 and 7 years by a "family member of the day care where he was placed." One year prior to the shooting, 12-year-old Mitchell was charged with molesting a 3-year-old girl while visiting southern Minnesota with his family. However, the record of the case was expunged because of Mitchell's age.
Andrew Douglas Golden was born and raised in Jonesboro to Jacqueline and Dennis Golden. By all accounts, he came from a stable household, having a good relationship with both his parents, and he regularly visited his grandparents and great-grandmother. Both of his parents worked as postal workers, and his paternal grandfather, Douglas Golden, was a wildlife conservation officer in Jonesboro. He was raised to be familiar with firearms and their use at an early age; he was given his first firearm by his father when he was six years old.
Johnson and Golden were both students at Westside Middle School. They met and became friends on a school bus that they rode home from school. Together, they were known to bully other students, and people recalled Johnson talking of wanting to belong to the Bloods and smoke marijuana. The Texaco truck stop was a popular hang-out for youths in Jonesboro, and adolescents there remember Johnson claiming to belong to street gangs. He also spoke of "having a lot of killing to do" and his classmates also commented that he had a fascination with firearms. He had particularly threatened to kill sixth-grader Candace Porter, his former girlfriend who ended their relationship.
Golden was a sixth grader at the school, where schoolmates said he displayed troublesome behavior. He would often engage other students in fist fights and use profane language. A classmate accused him of killing her cat with a BB gun.
Before the massacre
Three months prior to the incident, one of the students reported to a school counsellor that Golden had stated he intended to shoot some people at the school. When Golden was called to the counselor, he stated that he had a nightmare in which he followed through and then was killed, scaring him off the plan. Near the end of the school day on March 23, 1998, the day before the massacre, Johnson talked to his sister Jennifer, warning her not to come to school the next day, as Johnson heard that something bad was going to happen. The day before the massacre Golden told friends he had "a lot of killing to do" and suggested to them that they would know the next day whether they were destined to live or die.
On the night before the shooting, Golden assisted Johnson in loading his mother's Dodge Caravan with camping supplies, snack foods, nine weapons (Remington 742 .30-06 rifle, Universal .30 M1 carbine replica, Ruger .44 Magnum rifle, Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, Double Deuce Buddie .22 two-shot derringer, FIE .380 pistol, Star .380 pistol, Ruger Security Six .357 revolver, Davis Industries .38 two-shot derringer, and a Charter Arms .38 revolver), which had been stolen from Golden's grandfather's house, and 2000 rounds of ammunition.
The following morning, the boys drove in the van to Westside Middle School, arriving late after feigning illnesses to get out of school. As they arrived, Golden pulled the fire alarm just after 12:30 pm, during the beginning of fifth period, while Johnson took the weapons to the woods outside of the school. Golden then ran back to the woods where Johnson had taken the weapons. When children and teachers filed out of the school, the two boys opened fire, with officials stating that the shooting began at 12:41 pm. During the incident many became confused initially with reports of shouting of "It's all fake", as friends of wounded tried to evacuate their friends and teacher Shannon Watts used her body to protect a wounded student. Another teacher had been checking students off on her class list, when she heard pops, "like firecrackers" and thought it was an ill-advised attempt to frighten the kids, to potentially make them take the drill seriously. A student reported that the sounds were at first dismissed by some as construction workers had been working on the new fifth-grade building nearby.
Students who had initially evacuated for the drill, were brought back into the school's gymnasium, where students could hear the bullets ricocheting off the outside bricks and walls. Some victims were brought back inside by uninjured students and teachers, after a teacher opened the doors from the inside as they had automatically locked due to the fire alarm. A student who had sought shelter in the school, told a teacher with them that they believed the shooter was Mitchell Johnson, as they had been told by him not to come to school that day.
The boys killed four female students and one teacher and wounded ten others. All ten of those injured survived their injuries. Golden and Johnson attempted to run back to the van and escape, but police captured them. The shooters were apprehended about 10 minutes after the shooting began, according to a Lieutenant with the Jonesboro Police Department. The boys evidently planned to run away, as they had food, sleeping bags, and survival gear in their van.
As the incident was the third fatal multiple shooting at an American school since October 1997; following the Pearl High School shooting and the Heath High shooting, then President Clinton ordered Attorney General Janet Reno to organize experts on school violence to analyze the recent incidents, determine what they may have had in common and what steps could be taken to reduce the chance of a similar incident.
White ribbons were tied on tree trunks, and other objects in memory of the victims. The school installed a memorial bench outside the school that is carved with the date of the massacre, and a sundial memorial, installed in a park area behind the school, is engraved with the names of the victims. The park area was designed as a memorial park, based around the number 5 to commemorate the 5 dead victims, with five trees, with five picnic tables, and five stepping-stones, along with the sundial.
During the trial, Johnson hung his head and read a letter of apology he had written to victims' families. He said he had not been targeting anyone. "We were not going to shoot at anyone in particular," he said. "I really thought we would scare them. I am sorry. I hope anyone who listens to these words knows how truly sorry I am."
While in detention awaiting trial, Johnson wrote a letter that stated: "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."
Due to their age, they were tried as juveniles, and were found guilty of five counts of murder. Following their convictions, Johnson and Golden were taken by National Guard helicopter to Alexander, Arkansas, so they could be placed at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment & Treatment Center (AJATC), the Arkansas Department of Human Services Youth Services Division's juvenile facility and the state's most secure juvenile facility.
The two youths were among the youngest people ever charged with murder in U.S. history. The Jonesboro prosecutor later stated that were it not for their ages, he would have sought a death sentence for the pair. In August 1998, both boys were sentenced to confinement until they reached the age of 21, which is the maximum sentence available under Arkansas law. They would have served until only age 18 had federal authorities not added additional confinement for weapons charges. Judge Ralph Wilson commented, "This is a case where the punishment will not fit the crime." The case led to wide public outcry for tougher sentencing laws pertaining to juvenile offenders.
Johnson was released on his 21st birthday, August 11, 2005, having spent seven years in prison.
Golden was released on May 25, 2007, also his 21st birthday, after spending nine years in prison. Golden's whereabouts were unknown until he applied for a concealed weapon permit in Arkansas on October 7, 2008, under the name he now uses, Drew Douglas Grant. His application was denied by the Arkansas State Police, who noted that Golden had lied on the application about his previous residences and declared it was illegal for Golden to own or possess a firearm. The assumed name that Golden was using had been unknown up until this point due to a gag order, but police were able to tie Andrew Golden to Grant through fingerprint records during the background check for the permit.
Johnson's later legal troubles
On January 1, 2007, Johnson was arrested by the ATF after a traffic stop in Fayetteville, Arkansas on misdemeanor charges of carrying a weapon, a loaded 9 mm pistol, and possession of 21.2 g of marijuana. Though the van that Johnson was riding in was registered to him, the driver was 22-year-old Justin Trammell. Trammell and Johnson reportedly met at Alexander Youth Services Correctional Facility in Alexander, Arkansas, where Trammell was incarcerated after pleading guilty to the 1999 crossbow murder of his father, a crime committed when Trammell was 15. The pair were roommates and provided officers with the same Fayetteville address. Trammell was cited for careless driving and released. Johnson was arrested for possession of marijuana and a loaded weapon and later released on a $1,000 bond. He appeared in court on January 26, 2007 at the Washington County, Arkansas courthouse.
Johnson was indicted by a federal grand jury on October 24, 2007 for possession of a firearm while either using or addicted to a controlled substance. The US Attorney's Office for the Western District of Arkansas reported that Johnson pleaded not guilty and was released on a $5,000 bond. Johnson's trial began on January 28, 2008. After two days of testimony from the prosecution and the defense witnesses, Johnson was found guilty on a charge of possessing a weapon while being a drug user. In February 2008, just days after his conviction, Johnson was arrested again, now for possession of marijuana at the convenience store he worked at and on suspicion of using a stolen credit card.
On September 2008, US District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren sentenced Mitchell Johnson to four years in prison on the weapon and drug charges. During his sentencing, the judge expressed dismay that Johnson had not taken advantage of the chance he had to go straight. He told him, "No matter your sentence, you still have a life; those killed in 1998 do not." On October 7, 2008, Johnson pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Johnson admitted that he stole a debit card left by a disabled man at the Bentonville gas station where he worked and subsequently used it to purchase a meal at a local Burger King. He also admitted that at the time he was arrested, he was in possession of marijuana. On November 14, 2008, Johnson, now 24 years old, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the theft charge and misdemeanor possession charges. Although Johnson could have faced up to 30 years, the sentence of 12 years was chosen because Johnson technically had no criminal record from the Jonesboro shooting.
On January 23, 2009, Johnson was sentenced to six additional years in prison for an additional charge of theft by receiving and financial identity fraud for using the stolen card to purchase a meal from a local Burger King. Circuit Judge William Storey told Johnson, "You continue to run afoul of the law. I am hopeful this is the last time." That brought Johnson's combined state sentences to 18 years. In February 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted Johnson leave to appeal his sentence by saying that the trial judge should not have admitted evidence of the juvenile convictions during the sentencing phase of the theft and possession trial. Johnson will have to complete his federal sentence of four years after serving his 18-year state sentence. He could have remained incarcerated well into his thirties but was eligible for parole from his Arkansas sentence in 2011, after which he served the four-year federal sentence. In February 2016, ABC News reported online that Johnson was released in July 2015 into the custody of the US Probation Office for the Southern District of Texas and placed in a drug rehabilitation program. The office did not respond to ABC News' multiple requests for comment. It was pointed out that Johnson and Golden were the only two living "school shooters" who were not incarcerated.
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