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2 Slain Students Laid to Rest

March 28, 1998

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) _ Parents hugged their children and youngsters sobbed as two of the students slain in a schoolyard ambush were laid to rest Friday and this tight-knit community struggled to forgive the two boys accused of killing them.

``The healing cannot begin until we forgive,″ Gary Cremeens, a Church of Christ minister, told 500 mourners at the funeral of Paige Ann Herring, the first to be buried.

``God did not leave Jonesboro on Tuesday,″ said Cremeens at the Farmers Union Funeral Home. ``God wants us to be beacons of hope, light and love to a world that needs it so badly.″

Paige turned 12 less than two weeks before being gunned down at the Westside Middle School along with three other students and a teacher. Nine students and one teacher were wounded.

A funeral for Natalie Brooks, 12, was also held Friday. Stephanie Johnson, 12, Brittany Varner, 11, and teacher Shannon Wright, 32, are to buried Saturday.

At Natalie’s funeral, the Rev. Larry Ward said that a week ago Sunday, she had sat in church and listened to her pastor talk about a mass baptism that evening. Natalie said she wanted to be baptized, too, and had planned to do so this Sunday.

``I’ve thought a lot about that,″ Ward told 500 mourners at the Emerson Funeral Home. ``Maybe Natalie got baptized in the river of life, by the very hand of Jesus. She’s in the presence of the Lord.″

Her father, Floyd Brooks, hung his head in his hands and wept as Natalie was remembered as always smiling.

``Her grandmother had given her a Bible with her name on it _ she carried it to school every day,″ Ward, of the Refuge General Baptist Church, said before the service.

Ward sang ``Amazing Grace,″ which he said was Natalie’s favorite song, and cited the biblical story of Job.

``Let us not blame God for Satan’s handiwork,″ he told mourners. ``God still is in control.″

At the funeral for Paige, four paramedics came in their uniforms and many children wore the school’s red and white jackets.

A little girl in the second row clutched a brown teddy bear to her chest and cried to recordings of Celine Dion’s ``My Heart Will Go On″ _ the theme from ``Titanic″ _ and Trisha Yearwood’s ``How Do I Live Without You?″

Jeb Spencer, whose wife teaches at the school, was visibly shaken. He said he found comfort in his hometown and in Cremeens’ message.

``God seems to be the only answer,″ Spencer said. ``He’s also the one who has the plan that causes it to happen. It’s the only way out.″

Two classmates _ Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Drew Golden, 11 _ are being held on murder and battery charges. Police say one boy pulled the fire alarm, then both waited behind the school for students and teachers to come and opened fire.

``As hard as it is for me to say that, my son is guilty,″ Scott Johnson, Mitchell’s father, told CBS News.

He also said he doesn’t think the boys gave their act any forethought, or that either one should be offered a plea bargain to testify against the other.

Mitchell’s mother, Gretchen Woodard, in an interview with ABC’s ``20-20″ that was previewed Friday on ``World News Tonight,″ said she hasn’t been able to sleep.

``I close my eyes and that’s all I see is the people who lost their daughters,″ she said, sobbing next to her younger son, Monty.

``Their mother that they’ll never be able to hold again. There’s just no words for any of this.″

All but one of the 15 victims were female. The class nearest the fire exit was an all-girls music class.

Mitchell Wright, whose wife was killed protecting one of her students, said the shootings were not random.

``Much thought was put into it. It’s just cold-blooded murder,″ he said.

Also Friday, police said they recovered more than 500 rounds of ammunition from Mitchell and Drew, and 10 weapons, including three ``high-powered, hunting-style″ rifles. Seven of the guns had been stolen from Drew’s grandfather and the other three belonged to Drew’s father, police said.

Inside a van the boys had stolen from Mitchell’s house and parked near the school, police found more ammunition, knives, a machete and Mitchell’s hunter education card.

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