over Christmas and the summer. These visits did not go well; his father would threaten to send him home because he “misbehaved” and in the summer of 1996, he did send Mitchell home after only two weeks because he “was real hostile.”
Although Mitchell’s mother and his stepfather were viewed as caring, concerned parents, Mitchell may have had a lot of free time during which his parents were unaware of his activities. One Bono resident claimed to have seen him frequently hanging around on his bicycle, remarking that he could stay over at friends’ houses overnight without having to call home for permission. Although Mitchell was known for being very polite and well mannered, some felt that this unstructured time allowed him to get into trouble. He sometimes cursed at other kids or made threats, causing their parents to get upset. A community resident questioned whether he was ever disciplined at home for these incidents.
In the days and weeks immediately preceding the shooting, his mother did not notice any sudden changes in Mitchell’s behavior but admits that there were some troubling signs that something was wrong. The summer before the shooting, Mitchell was caught molesting a 2-year-old girl in Minnesota and was charged for the incident in juvenile court. When he returned to Arkansas, his mother began taking him to see a psychologist, who concluded that it was probably an isolated incident. At Christmas, Mitchell and his younger brother went back up to visit their father in Minnesota. They took the bus and on the way home were left stranded at the Chicago bus terminal for two days due to bad weather before any adult realized where they were. One of his teachers said that she noticed a change in Mitchell soon after that Christmas break. Mitchell was more reticent and spent less time with her, but she assumed that it was a fleeting or at least normal teenage phase so she backed off. Then, approximately one month before the shooting, Mitchell started to call sex-talk lines and racked up hundreds of dollars of debt on his father’s credit card. When Scott Johnson found out, he became furious at Mitchell; he called the police and threatened that Mitchell might have to move back up with him to Minnesota.
In retrospect, we know that Mitchell took this threat very seriously and was feeling “hopeless,” as if his life were over. From that point, Mitchell continued to spiral downward. About two weeks before the shooting, Mitchell was kicked off the basketball team (or tried out and didn’t make it, according to one school official) for self-mutilation; he apparently engraved his initials into his shoulder. It was also about that time that he was suspended for the baseball cap incident. And to top it off, his girlfriend of three days or possibly a week, Candace Porter, dumped him.2 With hindsight it is easy to see that Mitchell was sad,