Westside school shooting marks 20th anniversary

Updated: Mar. 24, 2018 at 11:05 AM CDT
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Britthney Varner (Source: KAIT)
Britthney Varner (Source: KAIT)
Stephanie Johnson (Source: KAIT)
Stephanie Johnson (Source: KAIT)
Natalie Brooks (Source: KAIT)
Natalie Brooks (Source: KAIT)
Shannon Wright (Source: KAIT)
Shannon Wright (Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Saturday is the 20th anniversary of an event that most people in Region 8 will never forget.

On March 24, 1998, four students - Paige Ann Herring, 12; Britthney Varner, 11; Stephanie Johnson, 12; and Natalie Brooks, 11; and a teacher – Shannon Wright - were killed at Westside Middle School.

Ten other people at the school were injured that day.

Two boys, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden, pulled a fire alarm at the school and began shooting at teachers and students as they left the building. The pair were arrested on suspicion of five counts of capital murder and 10 counts of first-degree battery in connection with the shooting.

Both Johnson and Golden were found delinquent as juveniles and served time in a juvenile detention facility until they turned 18, then served time in a federal facility until they turned 21 years old.

Johnson was released in 2005 but has been arrested on state credit card theft as well as federal drugs and weapons charges since then.

Golden was released in 2007 and has stayed largely out of the public eye. However, Arkansas State Police denied a concealed carry permit for Golden, who changed his name to Drew Grant, after ASP said he lied on one of the questions on the application.

Also, a Craighead County circuit judge in 2017 ordered Johnson and Golden to pay $150 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the families of the five victims.

Since that March day 20 years ago, the people at Westside have worked to honor and remember their classmates and friends.

A memorial garden was built on the campus after the tragedy.

Recently, a benefit ride was held to raise money to maintain the garden.

Chris "Topher" Scott said the garden is a constant reminder to everyone of that day.

"That was a tragedy that happened back in 98, and this is a place that the classmates come, family members come, and it's something to keep it to where we don't forget about it," Scott said. "It's nothing that anybody should forget."

To the families of Paige Ann Herring, Britthney Varner, Stephanie Johnson, Natalie Brooks and Shannon Wright, all of our thoughts and prayers remain with you.

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