only two rap CDs, TuPac Shakur’s All Eyez On Me, and Bone Thugz n Harmony’s E 1999. A Westside Middle School teacher testified before the Senate Commerce Committee, in a hearing about parental warning labels on albums, that “Mitchell brought this music to school with him, listened to it on the bus, tried listening to it in class, sang lyrics over and over at school, and played a cassette in the bathroom about ‘coming to school and killing all the kids.’” According to his mother, Mitchell was not obsessed with violent music or television. One friend mentioned that he often talked about blood and gore and that he liked “gory” movies.6
There is no direct evidence to suggest that Mitchell’s obsession with gangs came from the media, but such an explanation is possible given his relatively isolated life. He may also have learned about gangs from other children in the area where he lived, as gangs are a problem in the Jonesboro area, or from an older family member who attended an area school, which had a gang problem. We can only speculate as to the reasons Mitchell displayed such interest in gangs; it may have simply been a matter of looking cool, or it may have been a protective measure to stave off any would-be bullies. Whatever the reason, he was compelled to pretend he was part of one and talked about murder and violence as necessary to obtain entry to the gang community. It appears then that in his mind, violence could be rewarded and respected—a view that many attribute to the messages available in the mass media.
We know considerably less about Andrew’s viewing habits, except that he was a latchkey kid, whose frequent time alone at home may have left open the possibility for exposure to violent music or television. Andrew’s grandfather has told the media that Andrew did play video games with guns. According to adults who knew Andrew, he was enamored with Beavis and Butthead and South Park (as are thousands of other children), and he used to play the clown and mimic the characters in those television shows.
At the time of the shooting, two other school shootings had occurred in the South in the previous six months: one in Pearl, Mississippi, and one in West Paducah, Kentucky. It is unclear whether the boys were aware of either shooting, but people close to the boys do not believe it was a primary motivation. When the police searched their homes and the van, they found nothing to indicate it was a copycat crime and nothing the boys have reportedly said indicates they were directly influenced by the two recent shootings. Whether or not the shooting was a copycat crime, several community members, including one who knew both boys personally, believed that they were influenced by the fame they knew would result from the shooting and felt that the boys relished the attention, even though it was so negative.