Westside Middle School: Five Years Later

March 24, 2003
Posted at: 6:37 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Monday marked the fifth anniversary of a tragedy that brought Region 8 into focus on a national basis.

On March 24, 1998, two Westside Middle School students shot their classmates and teachers after drawing them outside their classrooms by pulling a fire alarm. Four students and one teacher were killed. It is an event that, to this day, is still painful for many in the community to remember, and steps are in place to hopefully never let a repeat occur again.

Five years ago, a moment became frozen in time. For many in Jonesboro and Region 8, it was news so horrible that many can recall exactly what they were doing when they heard the unbelievable news.

Students were absent from the Westside campus today. A teacher in-service day let students have an extra day of Spring Break. While teachers remained on campus, the middle school's Student Resource Officers and an extra Craighead County Deputy were watching the campus a little closer.

They are there to make sure the families who are visiting the memorial site Monday are safe, and not disturbed by the media. Roses from family members at the memorial site remind the community of lives lost, during a school day that turned into a tragedy.

Mitch Wright, who is now married to K8 News anchor Diana Davis, was then married to teacher Shannon Wright. He remembers the night he had to tell his very young son the bad news about Westside.

"God has taken your mother to heaven," Wright said he told his son. Shannon, who was trying to protect a student during the shooting, was not coming home.

"When can she come back?" Wright says his son asked him. "That just stood out in my mind. I know mom's not here, but when can she come back.

"To have to tell your son that she can never come back, it's the toughest thing I've ever done in my life," Wright said.

Mitch says his son Zane is growing up to be a very outgoing young man with a lively personality, and enjoys playing sports.

Lieutenant Rick Elliot of the Jonesboro Police was called to the scene of the shooting, which quickly became a place of people working to save lives. Since then, Elliot says, all threats are taken very seriously.

"We've had some threats," Elliot said. "It's something I try to respond to quickly, and take very seriously, and try to get resolved as quickly as possible."

Schools now have more security and more rules for students and visitors.

"There are deterrents at local schools that we hope will prevent this from taking place again," Elliot said.

The school's memorial garden, once a crime scene, is now a place where students come to gather, even play basketball. Five years later it's a place of remembering four classmates and their teacher on this day.

The two shooters, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden are currently being held in federal custody where they will remain until their 21st birthday. Westside has student resource officers who work to not only protect students, but look for any type of warning signs from students.