Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden
August 11, 1984 |
Grand Meadow, Minnesota
|Criminal charge||1998: 5 counts of murder, 10 counts aggravated assault
2007: drug possession, unlawful firearm possession
2008: theft, financial identity fraud, drug possession
|Criminal penalty||1998: Incarceration until age 18 and to 21 on federal charges
2008: 4-year federal sentence + 18-year state sentence
May 25, 1986 |
Jonesboro, Arkansas, United States
|Other names||Drew Douglas Grant|
|Criminal charge||Murder, attempted murder, unlawful firearm possession|
|Criminal penalty||Incarceration until age 18 and to 21 on federal charges|
|Parent(s)||Jacqueline and Dennis Golden|
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, the deadliest massacre at an American middle school. 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 they were recalled 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. After the shooting, Johnson claimed that Golden approached him and wanted to start a shooting spree at their school.
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. As they arrived, Golden pulled the fire alarm 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. The boys killed four female students and one teacher and wounded ten others. Golden and Johnson attempted to run back to the van and escape, but police captured them. The boys evidently planned to run away, as they had food, sleeping bags, and survival gear in their van.
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 American 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 precise 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.
- "Jonesboro city, Arkansas." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on October 18, 2010.
- Shooting suspect claims he was molested, Associated Press (reprinted by USA Today)
- "From wild talk and friendship, to five deaths in schoolyard"., New York Times (March 29, 1998)
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- Ark. vows to toughen juvenile sentencing by Carol Morello, USA Today. August 12, 1998.
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- Koon, David (2008-12-11). "Westside killer seeks handgun permit". Arkansas Times. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
- "KAIT - Jonesboro, AR: Second WestSide Shooter Served". Kait8.com. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- Will Carter (January 30, 2008). "Mitchell Johnson Trial Wrap-Up". Jonesboro, Arkansas: KAIT.
- Michelle Bradford (February 6, 2008). "Johnson suspected in theft of debit card" (Northwest Arkansas ed.). Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Archived from the original on 2008-02-16.
- "Johnson Pleads Guilty to Theft, Drug Charges". KATV7 News. Associated Press. October 8, 2008.[dead link]
- "Jonesboro shooter pleads guilty to theft". USA Today. Associated Press. October 8, 2008.
- Jon Gambrell (November 14, 2008). "Jonesboro shooter gets more prison time in Ark". Fox. Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 27, 2010.
- "Ark. school shooter gets extra 6 years for theft". Associated Press. January 23, 2009. Archived from the original on August 27, 2010.
- Jill Zeman Bleed (February 12, 2010). "Jonesboro Shooter Can Appeal Theft Plea". Little Rock, Arkansas: Fox. Associated Press. Archived from the original on July 28, 2011. Retrieved August 27, 2010.