in the school choir, and even sang at a nursing home on the weekends through his church youth group. He was active in sports, including football, basketball, and baseball. He had friends and was especially close to his younger brother, whom he always looked out for.

But there seem to have been many different sides to Mitchell Johnson, some of which are hard to reconcile with the “model child” aspects of this description. By some accounts, he had an explosive temper reminiscent of his father. Peers and teachers occasionally landed on the wrong side of Mitchell. He got into serious enough trouble to land himself on in-school suspension at least three times while he was a student at Westside Middle School. The first incident came when he was in sixth grade: he got mad and hit a thermostat in the hallway, breaking its glass case. Shannon Wright, the English teacher whom he would later shoot and kill, placed him on in-school suspension for that incident. The following year, Mitchell was on in-school suspension for cursing at a teacher.

The third occasion happened just a few weeks prior to the shooting. Mitchell was wearing a baseball cap even though school policy requires that no hats be worn in school. The teacher tried to take the hat away and Mitchell resisted. It took two adults to get the hat away from him, and Mitchell was placed on in-school suspension for his behavior. During his in-school suspension the last time, Mitchell was assigned to write a paper about why he was in there to begin with. The teacher claimed that this paper contained a veiled threat against her, and she brought it to the principal. It is not clear what the school did in response. In addition to these three incidents, Mitchell was also paddled for cursing on the bus. Despite these incidents, Mitchell was not considered a troubled student or a serious disciplinary problem by the school. He was usually very remorseful for his belligerent behavior and would apologize “ten times over” for his actions.

Mitchell was described by many of his peers as a bit of a bully. His classmates said he was a bragger, a kid who liked to flash gang signs and wear red to signal his supposed affiliation with the Westside Bloods, a gang in Jonesboro. There is no evidence that Mitchell was part of any gang, however, and his friends said that he was only a gang “wannabe.” It was rumored that a few weeks before the shooting, Mitchell brought a knife to the school and pulled it on a fellow student. Other students and adults suggest that Mitchell was himself bullied, or at least picked on. One teacher said he was sensitive and wanted more than anything to be popular and well liked, especially by girls. When classmates would tease him, his reaction was sometimes described as out of proportion to the supposed affront.

Mitchell’s relationship with his father remained stormy after the boy moved to Bono, and he was apprehensive of his trips back to Minnesota

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement