Jonesboro massacre: Two macho boys with 'a lot of killing to do'

David Usborne in Jonesboro reports on a fantasy that came tragically true
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The Independent Online
THE TWO young boys accused of Tuesday's school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, did not stand out among their peers. Sandy-haired Andrew likes to ride his bike around his house dressed in "camo" - camouflage clothing commonly worn by hunters here. Mitchell sang in his local church choir. Some have described both as polite, "Yes, sir, yes, ma'am" kids. Others, it is true, have been less flattering.

Golden, who is small for his age and somewhat hyper-active, was born locally. Both his parents are postmasters in small towns close to Jonesboro. Johnson comes from a broken home. He moved to Jonesboro with his mother from a town in Minnesota about two years ago.

One thing, however, that the two boys did have in common was a familiarity, verging on a fixation, with guns. They had easy access to them - too easy, it turns out - and they played with them at weekends, shooting birds out of the trees. They liked to brag about their skill.

And there was more: for months they had fantasised about proving to their friends that their trigger-fingers were where their mouths were. One day they would take their weapons to class at the Westside Middle School, in Jonesboro, and they would shoot some folks. If not for the fun of it, then to vent the anger that they both shared over romantic approaches that were not being reciprocated.

Golden, barely 4ft tall, understands guns. Known by friends as Drew, he had been getting instruction from his father, Dennis. Mr Golden is known as an avid hunter and co-founded a gun club, the Jonesboro Practical Shooters Acquisition, where he would take his son for pop-up target practice on weekends.

Drew had recently entered a nationwide target competition, where competitors would post in their scores. He came 670th out of 719.

"I have seen Drew shoot," said Terry Cider of the Jonesboro Practical Pistol Shooters Association, which holds meets to which the boy would sometimes come. "He wasn't very accurate and he wasn't very fast."

At Westside, both the boys would occasionally alarm friends with their macho swaggerings. They wore the outfits - Drew liked camo and Johnson had taken to wearing something red allegedly to demonstrate his loyalty to a local gang. He would spell out "Cripps Killers", the name of a national street gang, on dusty windows and buses.

It was this behaviour that made other children, and parents, steer clear of Johnson. Lloyd Brooks, who has a daughter, Jenna, at the school, said: "I didn't allow Jenna to play with him. He was too rowdy." Jenna once described Mitchell to her father as "pretty psychopathic".

Another thing that Johnson liked to do was to stick his finger into the ribs of other kids and pretend it was a gun. Some of what was going through Drew's imagination had been drawn to the school's attention.

Three months ago, one of the boys at the school went to a school counsellor to report that Drew had told him that he intended to shoot some people at the school. In an eerie twist, it seems that Golden, who was summoned to see the counsellor, confided that he had just had a nightmare which had scared him sufficiently to drop his plan. He had dreamed that he had killed people at the school, but that at the end, he had also died.

Evidently, the dream did not haunt Golden for long. It seems that by Monday, if not days before, both boys knew exactly what they were going to do. Johnson was especially angered by the fact that he had been rejected by girls, and particularly by one, Candace Porter. She was one of those injured in the shooting. He told friends on Monday that he had "a lot of killing to do" and suggested that they would know on Tuesday whether they were destined to live or die.

If Johnson offered the motive, Golden provided the hardware. His grandfather, Douglas Golden, a state wildlife official, has said in interviews that the 10 weapons used by the boys were stolen from his home. A white van that the boys had meant to use as a getaway car was also from the Golden family.

On Tuesday morning, both boys feigned illness to get out of classes. After breakfast, Johnson left his house and went to his friend's home. Golden was waiting with the guns and the van. Then, with tragic success, they realised their fantasy.