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Thursday, 26 March, 1998, 19:20 GMT
From choirboy to killer?
golden rifle
Andrew Golden practising his rifle shooting (from a home video)
At the beginning of March 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson was a choirboy, attending church by himself, with a reputation for behaving like a gentleman towards his female friends.

But on March 26, he appeared in court in Jonesboro accused of five counts of murder after the massacre of four pupils and their teacher at Westside Middle School.

Mitchell Johnson
"He seemed like such a neat young man," said Janice Holt, the pastor's wife who taught Mitchell at the Bono Revival Tabernacle.

"I thought when they were talking about the camouflage clothes, he must have more camouflaged on the inside than what we could see on the outside," she continued.

That neatly illustrates the emerging picture of Mitchell, who moved to Arkansas from Minnesota two years ago when his parents divorced. Pastor Holt remembers Mitchell becoming introspective and talking frequently about missing his father.

"He was always a really good friend to me," said 13-year-old Melinda Henson, who considered Mitchell to be one of her better friends.

"I mean, I could tell him anything, and he wouldn't say anything to anybody," she continued. But she admitted that the boy who held her chair for her in church also talked about wanting "to hurt people" and claimed to be part of a gang.

Two weeks before the attack Mitchell stopped going to church. "He always had some type of red on every day, because he was in the Blood Gang," said Melinda Henson.

"He started doing all these gang signs. I told him he should stop that because he was starting to scare me," she continued.

Mitchell is believed to have masterminded the attack, angry that his girlfriend Candace Porter had left him. Gradually people in Jonesboro are beginning to realise the warning signs were there, but went unheeded.

Kate Tate, 11, said Mitchell had told several pupils he was going to shoot Candace Porter.

"Mitchell said he was going to shoot Candace, then kill everyone in the building," she said.

"He was always talking about fighting people" remembers fellow pupil Jeremy White.

Andrew Golden
Eleven-year-old Andrew Golden who has appeared in court with Mitchell is said to have learned to shoot almost as soon as he could walk.

His grandfather, Doug Golden, says Andrew admitted that he broke into his house and stealing three rifles and four handguns and then set off the fire alarm that made the pupils leave the building.

"He told me he fired some shots. He said he shot at a car on the parking lot but 'I don't remember anything after that,'" Mr Golden said.

Andrew's motivation was to scare his classmates, Mr Golden said. "We don't know why," he added.

Andrew's father is a member of a local gun club and trained him to hunt and shoot targets. Relatives describe him as a pretty good shot, who often did target practice in nearby woods.

But Andrew's great-grandmother said his parents, both postal workers, worked long hours and the boy was often at home by himself.

Both boys have now appeared in court. Local newspapers were the only journalists allowed into the court, apparently Mitchell Johnson sobbed uncontrollably, while Andrew Golden sat stony-faced.

BBC News
Westside Middle School pupil Erica Swindles; the boys were bullies (0'42')
BBC News
Doug Golden; 'He's always been real cautious' (Dur 0'13')
See also:

25 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | Americas
25 Mar 98 | Americas
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
25 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
27 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
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