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Thursday, March 26, 1998 Published at 15:08 GMT

World: Americas

Boys charged over school massacre
image: [ Mitchell Johnson (left) and Andrew Golden are charged on five counts of murder ]
Mitchell Johnson (left) and Andrew Golden are charged on five counts of murder

Two boys, aged 11 and 13, have been remanded in custody charged with murder after four girls and a pregnant teacher were shot dead at a school in the US state of Arkansas.

The BBC's Jon Leyne reports from the juvenile court at Jonesboro (3'02')
The dead were killed with high-powered weapons in the town of Jonesboro on Tuesday. Six others who were wounded are still in hospital, one of them in a critical condition.

[ image: Four of the victims in the school killings]
Four of the victims in the school killings
The prosecutor in the juvenile court laid the charges, treating the young defendants as adults. A BBC correspondent in court says this could lead to life sentences.

Although that was not challenged during the brief hearing, the defence may argue that Mitchell Johnson, 13, and his 11-year-old cousin Andrew Golden must be treated as juveniles under Arkansas state law.

If they are convicted of any juvenile offences, the defendants would have to be released at the age of 18.

[ image:  ]
The two boys appeared in court dressed in orange prison uniforms. They were accompanied by their parents and public defenders who have been appointed on their behalf.

Mitchell Johnson, who was crying and holding his face in his hands, looked more shaken than his younger cousin. During the 15-minute hearing they were charged with five counts of murder and 10 of battery and remanded until April 29.

Community pulls together

The law officers will meet parents and teachers later at the Westside Middle School. Members of the media have now been asked to leave the school grounds.

Large numbers of pupils, staff and teachers have been arriving there for professional counselling, or just to talk to each other, to share their experiences or to feel a reassuring hug.

All around the school, white ribbons have been hung up as a sign of renewal and solidarity. Flowers, teddy bears, and messages have been pouring into the school as the community pulls together.

Meanwhile, in the rest of America, the debate has begun in earnest about how to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.


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