joined the school. Born in Minnesota, he lived for a time in Kentucky before moving to Bono in 1995. His mother, Gretchen Woodard, married three times. Mitchell’s father (and Gretchen Woodard’s second husband), Scott Johnson, had an explosive temper. According to media reports, by his own admission Scott Johnson was a screamer. While there is no evidence he was physically abusive toward Mitchell, he punched holes into walls and was verbally abusive, but after his tantrums rarely disciplined Mitchell in a way that would teach him what he had done wrong. Mitchell reacted quite strongly to his father’s temper; on several occasions, he was found trembling and physically ill in response, and it could take hours to calm him down.
In Minnesota, Gretchen worked as a correctional officer in a federal prison, and Scott worked at a meat packing plant. Since the couple worked long hours, Mitchell and his younger brother spent a considerable amount of time in the care of their grandmother. While Mitchell was staying at his grandmother’s home, he was apparently sexually assaulted, repeatedly and violently, by an older boy in the neighborhood. His mother did not find out about this abuse until after the shooting, however; Mitchell did not tell because his attacker had threatened to kill his grandmother if he ever told anyone about it. He was both ashamed and afraid that his father would be angry with him if he knew.
Mitchell’s parents split up and went through a difficult divorce. Shortly thereafter, Gretchen Woodward received a job promotion to a federal prison in Kentucky. Mitchell was 10 years old when they moved. His mother soon encountered and later married Terry Woodard, whom she had first met as an inmate, convicted on drugs and weapons charges, in the prison where she worked in Minnesota. Since Terry had grown up in the Jonesboro area, the new family made their way to Bono and enrolled Mitchell and his younger brother at Westside. Even though they didn’t have much money, life in Bono was peaceful and things were finally looking up. Mitchell got along well with his stepfather, who worked at a heavy equipment hauling company. For the first time, Gretchen Woodard could be a stay-at-home mom after Mitchell’s younger half-sister was born.
Mitchell seemed to be doing well at Westside. His teachers described him as a normal kid and a good student, who generally made As and Bs. Many of the adults at the school commented on how polite, respectful, and charming he was. Indeed, he received commendations for his good behavior. At ease in talking with adults, Mitchell had a reputation for being a real pleaser. His mother was not very involved at the school but there wasn’t that much to be involved in. Gretchen came to Mitchell’s parent-teacher conferences faithfully and was supportive of the school in its disciplinary decisions. Mitchell was interested in the Bible and attended Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro. He loved music, performed