Although they came from very different family backgrounds, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden shared the description of having something of a Jeckyll and Hyde personality. Both could be described as very sweet or polite, particularly by their teachers and in school, but they also had a more hostile side. Those who were privy to the sweet side were stunned by the shooting and found it hard to imagine that Mitchell and Andrew could be involved. Those exposed to the temper or the abuse of animals were also surprised but considered their roles plausible.
By most accounts, Mitchell and Andrew were not friends, just acquaintances who met on the long bus ride to school.3 The bus ride provided the boys with a fairly lengthy period of unsupervised time, with the bus driver as the only adult present. Many parents complained of rowdy and inappropriate antics by older children on the bus, to which younger children were exposed. While Mitchell and Andrew were not assigned to sit together on the bus, many believed that their plans were likely hatched there nonetheless. Neither boy visited the other’s house, they were in separate grades at school, and they had no common recess or activities together. In fact, adults at the school said they never would have paired the two together, their personalities were so different. But Mitchell and Andrew did call one another at least a few times, and friends said they saw each other outside school.
Four students and a teacher died in the shooting. The students who were killed were Stephanie Johnson, age 12; Paige Herring, age 12; Natalie Brooks, age 11; and Britthney Varner, age 11. Shannon Wright, who had been both Mitchell and Andrew’s English teacher, also died; she was married and had a son of her own, 2-year-old Zane. She was hailed as a hero by many in the community and the press for shielding her students from the gunfire, giving her life for theirs.
The wounded were Candice Porter, age 11, who “dated” Mitchell for a few days before she broke up with him; Crystal Barnes, age 13; Whitney Irving, age 11; teacher Lynette Thetford, who had Andrew in her social studies class; Brittany Lambie, age 13; Jennifer Jacobs, age 12, who reportedly dated Andrew and broke up with him before the shooting; Ashley Betts, age 12; Tristan McGowan, age 13, who was Andrew’s cousin; Christina Amer, age 12; and Jenna Brooks, age 12, cousin of Natalie Brooks, who was shot and killed.
The shootings took place on March 24, 1998, a Tuesday. Students and teachers had recently returned from spring break and were talking about