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Four Dead in Ark. School Shooting

March 25, 1998

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) _ Two boys in camouflage lay in wait in the woods behind their school, then opened fire with rifles on classmates and teachers when they came out during a false fire alarm Tuesday. Four girls and a teacher were killed and 11 people were wounded.

An 11-year-old and a 13-year-old boy were caught trying to run away shortly after the midday ambush at the Westside Middle School, police said. A third boy who allegedly pulled the fire alarm was being sought.

Police did not offer a motive, but a classmate said one of the suspects had recently broken up with his girlfriend.

``He told me after seventh period (Monday) that he was never going to see me again and I wouldn’t be able to see him again because he was going to run away,″ said Jennifer Nightingale. She did not say if any of the victims was the former girlfriend.

Authorities said as many as 27 shots were fired. Youngsters ran screaming back inside the school as their classmates fell bleeding, then cried as they waited for emergency workers.

``Someone pulled the fire alarm inside and they went outside, and two people in camouflage clothing started shooting,″ said Connie Tolbert, a secretary.

``We thought it was just firecrackers,″ said one student, Brandy George. ``I saw one of my teachers get shot. I started running towards the gym.″

Said paramedic Charles Jones: ``We had children lying everywhere. They had all been shot.″

Sheriff Dale Haas cried as he recounted the shootings.

Authorities identified the dead students as Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring, Stephanie Johnson, all 12, and Brittheny R. Varner, who was 11. Tuesday night, teacher Shannon Wright died after surgery for wounds to her chest and abdomen, Craighead County coroner Toby Emerson said.

Another teacher, Sara Thetford, was in critical condition after surgery Tuesday. Five wounded girls were admitted in stable condition. Three girls and one boy were treated and released.

The wounded students were between 11 to 13 years old. State police said a 12th person was wounded, but was not treated at the hospital.

The school has about 250 students in sixth and seventh grades. Jonesboro is a university town of 52,000 about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock.

The two boys, wearing camouflage shirts, pants and hats, were caught near the school with handguns and rifles. Officer Terry McNatt said they offered no resistance and said little. The boys, both students at the school, were being held at the county jail.

Investigators said the boys were running in the direction of a white van found about a half-mile away from the school with more guns and ammunition in it. It wasn’t immediately certain if the vehicle was related to the shootings.

Karen Pate, a parent volunteer, was in the school gym when the fire alarm went off just after sixth-graders had finished lunch and returned to their classrooms. She fled outside and ``saw girls falling to the ground.″

``I helped one teacher who had been shot in the abdomen get out of there where she could lay down and we could start medical attention,″ Mrs. Pate said. ``Another student had got shot in the leg. As soon as she got hit, she couldn’t walk and she fell into the doorway.″

Mrs. Pate and her sixth-grade daughter were not hurt.

President Clinton, on a visit to Kampala, Uganda, said in a statement that he and the first lady were ``deeply shocked and heartbroken.″

``We don’t know now and we may never fully understand what could have driven two youths to deliberately shoot into a crowd,″ he said. ``Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the entire Jonesboro community.″

Gov. Mike Huckabee said he was angry, as a parent, that such a tragedy could happen at a public school.

``It makes me angry not so much at individual children that have done it as much as angry at a world in which such a thing can happen,″ he said.

Arkansas law does not prohibit minors from possessing shotguns or rifles, but it does bar people younger than 21 from possessing handguns. Other laws prohibit anyone from possessing a gun on public property or with criminal intent.

It was at least the third fatal shooting rampage in a school in the past five months.

On Dec. 1, a boy opened fire on a student prayer circle at a high school in West Paducah, Ky., killing three students and wounding five. A 14-year-old student, described as small and emotionally immature, was arrested.

Two months earlier, a 16-year-old outcast in Pearl, Miss., was accused of killing his mother, then going to school and shooting nine students. Two of them died, including the boy’s ex-girlfriend. Authorities later charged six friends with conspiracy, saying the suspects were part of a group that dabbled in satanism.

On Dec. 15, a sniper in the woods wounded two students outside a school in the southwestern Arkansas town of Stamps. A 14-year-old boy was arrested after a manhunt.

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