Jonesboro remembers teacher who saved pupil Ark. community grieves as it lays to rest the last victims in school shooting

March 29, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Shannon Wright, who threw herself into the path of a bullet to save her sixth-grade pupil, was remembered yesterday as a hero as the final victims of Tuesday's shooting spree at Westside Middle School were laid to rest.

The 32-year-old teacher -- who leaves a husband and a 2-year-old son -- was memorialized at a packed service five miles from the scene of the bloody schoolyard ambush that claimed the lives of Wright and four young girls and injured 10 others.

Services for 12-year-old Stephanie Johnson and 11-year-old Brittney Varner were held yesterday.

The three were the last of the victims to be buried, as this rural community struggled to cope with their sudden and violent deaths. Funerals for Paige Ann Herring, 12, and Natalie Brooks, 11, were held Friday.

Police say 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden lured classmates to a school parking lot with a false fire alarm, then used stolen weapons to rain bullets upon teachers and students for four minutes.

The boys have been charged with five counts of murder and 10 counts of first-degree battery and are being held in a nearby juvenile detention center.

Condolences continued to pour in from around the world. Old Orchard Elementary School in Toledo, Ohio, sent 72 teddy bears to comfort the school's children. Cards and letters by the score came from children and adults in Dunblane, Scotland, where, two years ago, 16 young children and their teacher were gunned down at an elementary school by a former Scout leader.

Confirming the curious link that occurs when towns are visited with similar horror, Paducah, Ky. -- scene of another recent school shooting -- dispatched 100 crisis counselors to assist the Jonesboro community.

About $45,000 has been raised in Jonesboro to aid the families of the victims. The town plans a mass memorial service Tuesday night.

In South Africa, President Clinton urged Americans and mourners in his home state to try to come to terms with last week's tragedy.

"We do not understand what drives children, whether in small towns or big cities, to pick up guns and take the lives of others. We may never make sense of the senseless, but we have to try," Clinton said in his weekly radio address. The former Arkansas governor taped the address in Cape Town as he continued his 12-day African tour.

"We have to understand that young children may not fully appreciate the consequences of actions that are destructive but may be able to be romanticized at a twisted moment," Clinton said, mentioning each of the shooting victims by name.

The president, noting that the Jonesboro shooting was the third time in recent months that an American town has been "shaken by the awful specter of students being killed by other young people at schools," said he has asked Attorney General Janet Reno to organize experts on school violence to study the shootings and determine what steps can be taken to prevent such tragedies.

During the service for Wright at Bono Church of Christ, the Rev. Benny Baker called her a hero and urged the scores of teachers who attended to use her as an example.

"Do your job," he said. "Be the teacher you are to be. There is going to be pain, and there is going to be struggle. But you will honor the memory of Shannon Wright if you enter that classroom Monday, carrying with you a reaffirmed passion to teach."

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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