WESTSIDE TRAGEDY: Shooting coverage changed reporter’s life

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 7:37 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Lives can change in an instant. Students, their parents, and teachers at Westside Middle School have known that for a very long time.

The shooting that happened in 1998 changed so many lives.

Those dispatched to the scene could never have anticipated the horror of what they would see.

Covering the Westside shooting, the families affected and the funerals that followed proved to be a life-changing moment for a former KAIT-TV reporter and anchor.

Bryant Huddleston was just 26 years old.

“Fifteen children have been shot. Two have been confirmed dead,” Huddleston said as he reported live from the scene of the school shooting on March 24, 1998.

The graduate of Arkansas State University was an anchor and reporter for KAIT.

“To actually report on it in my backyard and to witness children being put into the back of an ambulance after being wounded after being wounded by gunfire is something I don’t want to do ever again,” Huddleston said.

His father had worked for years as an Arkansas State Trooper. The younger Huddleston was no stranger to crime scenes.

However, this one was different.

“To see such pain in our community was a little too much,” Huddleston said.

He was faced with asking former Craighead County Sheriff Dale Haas the tough questions that day.

“At that time, they started shooting, there was probably 15 kids shot,” Haas said when Huddleston interviewed him in 1998.

Haas had to take a deep breath, choking back emotion as he spoke.

Huddleston asked, “And the boys are in custody?”

“Yes, there’s two young boys,” Haas replied.

Huddleston was the first video journalist to arrive on the scene that day. His footage was seen around the world.

“When you go back and look at the footage, you just see the carnage, the blood, and the heartbreak,” he said.

The Westside shooting changed everything for him and so many others.

“I soon quit my job and left the business,” Huddleston said emphatically.

He packed his car a couple of weeks later and drove to Los Angeles--where he has been working ever since.

Huddleston is not in television news anymore, but he works on shows like Access Hollywood to Dr. Phil as a senior segment producer. He has earned an Emmy and several other awards along the way.

Most importantly though, Huddleston became a Dad.

“I have a son,” he said. “He’s 14. Those things would never have happened if I hadn’t made those decisions.”

During all the years since 1998, Huddleston said he’s never forgotten what happened that day, the terror on people’s faces, and his responsibility to tell the story of a horrific day.

“It was our story to tell,” he said. “It was handed to us.”