The older boy calmly asked for a Bible and a minister Thursday, the local sheriff said, while the younger one cried and pleaded that he "wants his mama, and he wants to go home now."
As 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden sat in a juvenile detention center, charged with the shootings on Tuesday that left four of their schoolmates and one teacher dead, Mitchell's father, Scott Johnson, said the boy was full of shame and contrition but had offered no explanation of what had led him to kill.Johnson, 36, a cross-country trucker, said he was driving through Fort Worth on Tuesday when he heard of the shootings on his radio. He called Jonesboro to see whether Mitchell was safe and learned that he was in custody. So Johnson dropped his trailer and drove here in the cab.
The father, who is divorced from Mitchell's mother and lives in Minnesota, described a brief meeting with his son that the authorities allowed him on Wednesday:
"He broke down in my arms and he wept, and he just said over and over he was sorry and he wished he could take it back.
"My son is not a monster," he declared later in television interviews.
"I don't have an explanation for any of this. Nobody does," Scott Johnson told "NBC Nightly News" and ABC's "World News Tonight" on Thursday. "It's not something you would expect out of your child or anybody else's child."
Amid the grief, there is also anger over the apparently limited prospects for punishing the two young accused killers. Under the state's juvenile-sentencing laws, both may well be released by their 18th birthdays, even if they are convicted on every charge stemming from the five killings, carried out with deer-hunting rifles.
"Those parents were utterly devastated," said the Rev. Jerry Jolly, chaplain of the Arkansas State Police. "I pray that we can find compassion for those parents because they're suffering as well.
In Washington Thursday, Attorney General Janet Reno said she was exploring whether it was possible to charge the boys under federal laws and, if so, whether the older boy might be tried as an adult.
In any event, such maneuvers, which many people here are demanding, would still be unlikely to keep either boy in custody beyond the age of 21.