Flashback Friday: The Westside Middle School Massacre in Jonesboro

Today’s Flashback Friday in History, was a very sad moment indeed.

It was March 24th, 1998. 13 year old Mitchell Johnson and 11 year old Andrew Golden had, the night before, loaded Johnson’s mothers Dodge Caravan with camping supplies, snacks, two semi-automatic rifles, one bolt-action rifle and four handguns which they’d stolen from Golden’s grandfathers house. On the morning of March 24th, they drive the Caravan to Westside Middle School located in unincorporated Craighead County, Arkansas, United States, near Jonesboro. When they got to the school, Golden pulled the fire alarm while Johnson took the weapons to the woods outside of the school; Golden joined him after pulling the alarm. The two boys opened fire as teachers and students began filing out of the school. The boys killed four female students and one teacher, while wounding ten others. They then attempted to run back to the van and escape, but police captured them. Their plan was to run away, evidenced by the survival gear, food and camping supplies.

These two boys were amongst the youngest ever to be charged with murder in American history and were it not for their ages, the prosecutor stated he would have sought the death penalty. The maximum sentence under Arkansas law at the time was confinement until the age of 14! They actually served longer than that due to the additional weapons charges; Golden was released on May 25, 2007 and Johnson was released on August 11, 2005. If they’d commited their crimes years later, even at the ages they were at the time of the crime, they could have possibly been sentenced to life. Obviously, for Johnson at least, the confinement did nothing for his character as on January 1, 2007 he was arrested for drug posession and carrying a prohibited weapon; he’d been riding in a van with his roommate, who ironically had been sentenced in 1999 for killing his father with a crossbow. They claimed that their original motivation for the shootings was due to bullying and they only wanted to scare, not kill people.

This brings up a major Catch-22 for me, as it did at the time of the shootings. On one hand, bullying is a major issue and has been for a long time. It is horrific the things that kids do and say to each other and as adults, it’s our responsibility to set an example and show why bullying is wrong. On the other hand, obviously it’s not the right thing to kill people who have bullied you. So where is the balance? What do you all think?

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