A 13-year-old boy warned friends "he had a lot of killing to do" after he was jilted by a girl. A day later, he and his 11-year-old cousin allegedly lured classmates out of school with a false fire alarm, then mowed them down with gunfire.
Four girls and an English teacher who shielded a student from the attack were killed in the ambush Tuesday. Eleven others - 10 students and a teacher - were wounded. Six people remained hospitalized, one in critical condition.Hearings for the boys were scheduled Wednesday, while authorities searched for answers to how the boys got their weapons and why they attacked.
"There's no explanation in my opinion why an 11-year-old or 13-year-old would do something like this," Craighead County Sheriff Dale Haas said. "It breaks my heart."
A big wreath, two bouquets and a candle were on the sidewalk in front of Westside Middle School. Classes were canceled.
Police did not offer a motive, but classmates said the 13-year-old had recently broken up with his girlfriend. A day earlier, he had said he "had a lot of killing to do," schoolmate Jamie Clevenger told The Jonesboro Sun.
Another student said she saw the 11-year-old by the fire alarm, then saw him running out of the school once it was triggered.
Authorities said as many as 27 shots were fired. Youngsters scrambled as some of their classmates fell bleeding and cried as they waited for emergency workers.
The dead students were identified as Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring and Stephanie Johnson, all 12, and Brittany R. Varner, who was 11. Teacher Shannon Wright, 32, died Tuesday night after surgery for wounds to her chest and abdomen, the county coroner said. Students said she stepped in front of another student as the shots rang out.
Authorities didn't release the boys' names, but the Sun identified them as Mitchell Johnson, 13, and his cousin Andrew Golden, 11. Under state law, children under 14 are charged only in juvenile court and can be held only until they turn 18. But Prosecutor Brent Davis said his office is "trying to ascertain exactly what our options are" in bringing more serious charges.
Students described Mitchell as a troubled boy who had recently begun bragging about involvement with a gang and was upset over a breakup with a girlfriend, who was among the wounded. Students said he made numerous threats Monday.
Another seventh-grader, Charles Vanoven, said the 13-year-old also had pulled a knife on another student Monday. Other students said the boy was specifically targeting one of the girls wounded.
"He said he was definitely going to shoot Candace because she had broken up with him," sixth-grader Kara Tate, 11, told the Sun.
Kim Candace Porter, whom several students described as the boy's former girlfriend, was listed in stable condition at St. Bernards Regional Medical Center.
The school has 250 students in sixth and seventh grades. Jonesboro is a university town of 52,000 about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock.
The two boys, wearing camouflage shirts, pants and hats, were caught near the school with handguns and rifles. Investigators said the boys were running in the direction of a white van found about a half-mile away from the school with more guns and ammunition in it. The van was impounded by police.
Classmate Erica Swindle, 12, said the younger boy owned a gun and went deer hunting often.
Arkansas has no law prohibiting minors from possessing shotguns or rifles, although people younger than 21 are barred from having handguns. Other laws prohibit possessing guns on public property or for criminal intent.
President Clinton, on a visit to Kampala, Uganda, said in a statement that he was "profoundly sad and disturbed" by the shootings.
Gov. Mike Huckabee said he was angry, as a parent, that such a tragedy could happen at a public school.
"It makes me angry not so much at individual children that have done it as much as angry at a world in which such a thing can happen," he said.
The Arkansas shooting was at least the third fatal shooting in a school in the past five months. As in the Jonesboro case, all the dead were girls. On Dec. 1, a boy opened fire on a student prayer circle at a high school in West Paducah, Ky., killing three students and wounding five. Two months earlier, two students died at a shooting in Pearl, Miss.
Two students also were wounded in Arkansas in December when a student sniper opened fire in the southwestern Arkansas town of Stamps.
Clinton said he will ask Attorney General Janet Reno to find "whatever experts there are in our country" to analyze the shootings to see whether any elements of the shootings are similar.