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Andrew Douglas GOLDEN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Juvenile (11) - School shooting
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: March 24, 1998
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: May 25, 1986
Victims profile: Natalie Brooks, 11; Paige Ann Herring, age 12; Stephanie Johnson, 12; Brittheny Rachel Varner, 11, and Shannon Wright, 32 (students and a teacher)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA
Status: Sentenced to confinement until age 21. Released on May 25, 2007
 
 

 
 

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The Westside Middle School massacre was a school shooting that occurred on March 24, 1998 in Westside Middle School in unincorporated Craighead County, Arkansas, United States, near Jonesboro. A total of five people, four female students and a teacher, were killed. Ten people, nine students and one teacher, were injured.

The perpetrators of the shooting were two students, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson, and 11-year-old Andrew Golden, who were shooting in an ambush style from the woods in camouflaged clothes.


Mitchell Scott Johnson (born August 11, 1984) and Andrew Douglas Golden (born May 25, 1986) were middle school students who committed the Westside Middle School massacre, killing four students and one teacher, and wounding ten others.

Background

Mitchell Scott Johnson lived in Jonesboro with his mother, stepfather, and his brother. His parents divorced when he was seven, and his mother remarried to Terry Woodward, an inmate at the prison where she was a guard. Johnson had a good relationship with his stepfather, and adults who remember him described him as being quiet and respectful. However, his fellow students at Westside Middle School described him as being a bully, who talked of wanting to belong to street gangs and smoke marijuana. He also spoke of "having a lot of killing to do" and holding a bitter grudge against Shannon Wright, his English teacher. His classmates also commented that he had a fascination with firearms.

Following the shooting, Johnson's attorney claimed that he had been sexually abused when he was 6 and 7 years old by a "family member of the day care where he was placed." One year prior to the shooting, 12-year-old Mitchell was charged with molesting a 3-year-old girl while visiting Minnesota with his family. However, the record of the case was expunged because of Mitchell's age.

Andrew Douglas Golden lived in the Jonesboro area with his parents. By all acounts, he came from a stable and loving household, having a good relationship with both his parents, and visiting his grandparents after school. He was raised to be familiar with guns and their use at an early age; he was given his first firearm by his father when he was six years old. Golden's schoolmates described him as a bully, and faced troublesome behavior. He would often engage fist fights with other students, and would often use profane language. A classmate once accused him of killing her cat with a BB gun.

The shooting

On the night of March 23, 1998 Golden helped Johnson load his mother's 1991 Dodge Caravan with weapons, snack foods, and camping supplies.

The next day, Johnson stole his mother's keys and drove to the school with Golden. Johnson parked the van in the middle of the woods outside of the backyard of the school, planning to return there once the massacre was over. Johnson sat on a hill in the backyard of the school, while Golden went inside and pulled the fire alarm. Golden ran back and rejoined him at the hill with his weapon. As the students and teachers filed out of the building, thinking it was a routine fire drill, Johnson and Golden opened fire on them.

After they fired for four minutes, four students and a teacher were killed, and ten more were wounded. As the police arrived on the scene, Johnson and Golden ran into the woods back to the van. However, they failed to outrun the officers that were pursuing them, and were both arrested by the police officers.

Trial

During the trial, Mitchell hung his head and read a letter of apology he had written to victims' families. Mitchell said he wasn't targeting anyone. "We were not going to shoot at anyone in particular," he said. "I really thought we would scare them. I am sorry. I hope anyone who listens to these word knows how truly sorry I am."

While in detention awaiting trial, Mitchell wrote a letter that stated: Hi. My name is Mitchell. My thoughts and prayers are with those people who were killed, or shot, and their families. I am really sad inside about everything. My thoughts and prayers are with those kids that I go to school with. I really want people to know the real Mitchell someday. Sincerely, Mitchell Johnson."

Due to their age, they were tried as juveniles, and were found guilty of 5 counts of murder. Following their convictions, Johnson and Golden were taken by National Guard helicopter to Alexander, Arkansas, the location of the Youth Services Division's juvenile facility and the state's most secure juvenile facility.

While incarcerated, Mitchell reunited with Colby Brooks (no relation to victim Natalie Brooks). The two had been good friends before the shooting.

Release

Johnson was released on August 11, 2005, on his 21st birthday due to federal gun crimes. Originally he was to only be held until he turned 18 years old. He spent less than 2 years in jail for each murder that he committed. He is allowed to buy and own firearms.

In interviews with Johnson's mother, she has said that he plans to leave Jonesboro and become a Baptist minister. However in a deposition taken for the civil case, he stated that he wanted to become a Seventh Day Adventist Minister, but hasn't found a Seventh Day Adventist church that he liked.

Golden was released on May 25, 2007, also his 21st birthday. Golden's exact whereabouts were unknown until he applied for a concealed weapon permit in Arkansas on October 7, 2008, under the name he now uses, Drew Douglas Grant. His application was denied by Arkansas state police, who noted that Golden had lied on the application about his previous residences and claimed it would be illegal for Golden to own or possess a firearm, though the reason for this is unclear. The assumed name that Golden was using had been unknown up until this point due to a gag order, but police were able to tie Andrew Golden to Grant through fingerprint records during the background check for the permit

Golden completed his civil case deposition on May 6, 2008.

2007-2008 legal trouble

On January 1, 2007, Johnson was arrested after a traffic stop in Fayetteville, Arkansas on misdemeanor charges of carrying a weapon a loaded 9 mm pistol and possession of 21.2 grams of marijuana. Though the van Johnson was riding in was registered to him, the driver was 22-year-old Justin Trammell. Trammell and Johnson reportedly met at Alexander Youth Services Correctional Facility in Alexander, Arkansas, where Trammell was incarcerated after pleading guilty to the 1999 crossbow murder of his father, a crime committed when Trammell was 15. The pair are roommates and provided officers with the same Fayetteville address. Trammel was cited for careless driving and released. Johnson was arrested for possession of marijuana and a loaded weapon and later released on a $1,000 bond. He had a court appearance on January 26, 2007 at the Washington County, Arkansas courthouse.

Johnson was indicted by a federal grand jury on October 24, 2007 for possession of a firearm while either using or addicted to a controlled substance. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Arkansas reported that Johnson pleaded not guilty and was released on a $5,000 bond. Johnson's trial began on January 28, 2008. After two days of testimony from the prosecution and the defense witnesses, Johnson was found guilty on a charge of possessing a weapon while being a drug user.

In February 2008, just days after his conviction, Johnson was arrested again, this time for possession of marijuana at the convenience store he worked at and on suspicision of using a stolen credit card.

On September 2008, US District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren sentenced Mitchell Johnson to four years in prison on the weapon and drug charges. In his sentencing, the Judge expressed dismay that Johnson had not taken advantage of the chance he had to go straight. He told him "No matter your sentence, you still have a life, those killed in 1998 do not". On October 7, 2008, Johnson plead guilty a felony theft charge and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Johnson admitted that he stole a debit card left by a disabled man at the Bentonville gas station where he worked and subsequently used it to purchase a meal at a local Burger King. He also admitted that, at the time he was arrested, he was in possession of marijuana.

On November 14, 2008, Johnson, now 24 years old, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the theft charge and misdemeanor possession charges. Although Johnson could have faced up to 30 years, the sentence of 12 years was chosen because Johnson technically had no criminal record from the Jonesboro shooting.

On January 23, 2009, Johnson was sentenced to six additional years in prison for an additional charge of theft by receiving and financial identity fraud for using the stolen card to purchase a meal from a local Burger King. Circuit Judge William Storey told Johnson "You continue to run afoul of the law. I am hopeful this is the last time." This brought Johnson's combined state sentences to 18 years.

Johnson will have to complete his federal sentence of four years before serving his 18-year state sentence. He will likely remain incarcerated well into his 30s.

Wikipedia.org


5 slain at school, 2 boys held

One teacher, four students die, 10 are wounded after a false fire alarm lured students out of the building

Contra Costa Times

March 25, 1998

A 13-year-old boy, who reportedly vowed to kill all the girls who had broken up with him, and his 11-year-old cousin opened fire on students outside a middle school here Tuesday, killing four girls and one teacher and wounding 10 other people, authorities said.

Law enforcement officers said the two boys, dressed in camouflage clothing, apparently lay in wait in a wooded area near the school after someone, perhaps a third person, set off a fire alarm, forcing students and faculty members outside.


'A lot of killing to do'

The Columbian

March 25, 1998

JONESBORO, Ark. 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, police said, he and his 11-year-old cousin 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 today, one in critical condition.


5 killed at Arkansas school

Students and teachers were ambushed after false fire alarm

2 classmates caught fleeing area with guns

Winston-Salem Journal

March 25, 1998

Two boys in camouflage lay in wait in the woods behind their school, then opened fire with rifles on classmates and teachers when they came out during a false fire alarm yesterday. Four girls and a teacher were killed, and 11 people were wounded.

An 11-year-old and a 13-year-old boy were caught trying to run away shortly after the midday ambush at Westside Middle School, police said. A third boy who is believed to have pulled the fire alarm is being sought.


Boy & his gun

Philadelphia Daily News

March 26, 1998

Doug Golden drove frantically from hospital to hospital, terrified that his grandson Andrew might have been one of the victims of the carnage at his middle school. Finally, the cops directed him to the sheriff's office.

He then discovered the awful truth. His 11-year-old grandson was one of two boys charged in the methodical slaughter of four children and a teacher outside the Westside Middle School on Tuesday.


Arkansas boys showed a taste for violence

The Boston Globe

March 26, 1998

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Before the bloodletting, Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson were like so many other boys who traipse around these dusty rural roads in camouflage, waiting for those days when they get free from school to go deer hunting with their fathers.

But they were also different, standing out for their trouble-making in school, and, recently, a fascination with violence.


Choir boy, 'evil' pal held

Suspects' relatives, friends baffled by deadly ambush

One stands out as a troublemaker, a slight kid one neighbor describes as ''evil-acting,'' at age 11 already well-tutored by his dad in shooting rifles, shotguns and pistols.

The older one was literally a choir boy who went to church when his parents didn't and held chairs politely for girls. But recently, he'd donned red clothing or camouflage outfits, boasted of gang membership and cropped his dark brown hair boot-camp short. Two weeks ago, he stopped going to church.


Boy 'selected' victims

Shootings weren't random, suspect's grandad says

The Arizona Republic

March 26, 1998

One ''beet red'' and appearing upset, the other stoic and unflinching, the two boys accused of executing four classmates and a teacher sat in silence Wednesday as a judge ordered them detained while authorities decide how to prosecute them.

The boys, clad in orange jail jumpers, said nothing at the brief hearing and replied only ''yes'' when asked if their names were Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11.


The suspects

Injured pride is said to be boys' motive

San Jose Mercury News

March 26, 1998

The two boys used to tease 12-year-old Erica Swindle about her glasses. She thought they were mean.

Wednesday, those same boys, one 11 and one 13, were being held in juvenile detention at the Craighead County, Ark., jail, facing murder charges after bullets fired outside a middle school Tuesday killed four girls and one teacher, wounded 10 other people and plunged this small city into despair.


Hero teacher 'saw that bullet coming'

The Columbian

March 26, 1998

JONESBORO, Ark. Unfazed by the bloodbath around her as screaming schoolchildren fell to the ground in a spray of gunfire, English teacher Shannon Wright stepped in front of little Emma Pittman and took a bullet for the sixth-grader.

Emma was unharmed, but the shooting rampage cost four little girls and the Westside Middle School teacher their lives. Emma lived.


Teachers 'nothing but heroes' in attack

One killed, another hurt as they shielded Arkansas students from hail of gunfire

March 28, 1998

JONESBORO, Ark. -- One teacher took a bullet for a student and lost her life. Another was wounded shielding her pupils from the gunfire. A third held a student's hand until an ambulance came.

Even the volleyball coach made a makeshift tourniquet out of a flannel shirt to help stem the bleeding for a boy shot twice in the arm.

There were numerous heroes in the school yard ambush at Westside Middle School that left five dead and 10 wounded.

"We don't think about our teachers, principals and school board members as heroes, but I was there and I saw nothing but heroes," said Loyce Lowgill, the high school's special education teacher.

Teacher Shannon Wright, 32, threw herself in front of sixth-grader Emma Pittman and was shot twice. Wright died in surgery. Emma was unharmed.

The other teacher who was shot, Sara Lynette Thetford, was visited at the hospital Thursday -- where she was listed in stable condition -- by the mother of one of the children she shielded.

The mother hugged Thetford's husband, Carroll, and thanked the social studies teacher for saving her daughter's life.

"How are the kids?" Thetford asked, according to her son, Greg, who witnessed the exchange.

Two boys who went to the school are being held on murder and battery charges. Police say Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Drew Golden, 11, ambushed students and teachers who had left the school because of a false fire alarm. Drew's grandfather said Drew admitted pulling the alarm.

Tristian McGowan, Drew's cousin, said volleyball coach Susie Adams gave him a white flannel shirt to stop the bleeding from his right arm, which had been hit twice.

Pam Dunivan, the school's arts and crafts teacher, stayed with him in the ambulance, reassuring him that he would be all right.

"I think a lot of them," Tristian said.

The bullet that lodged in Whitney Irving's abdomen apparently killed her friend, Brittany Varner.

Sixth-grade math teacher Cathy Holman held Whitney's hand while they waited for an ambulance.

Holman was crying, but stayed calm. "She said it was going to be OK," Whitney said. Whitney was treated and released.

Bullets struck the rear cinder block wall of the gymnasium as panicked students ran screaming back into the school. Teachers stood in front of them so they would feel safe, said Debbie Brooks, whose son, Colby, attends Westside.

Kelly Dunivan, a senior at Westside High School next door, said she could hear her mother on the two-way radio yelling that there was gunfire.

"Luckily, my mother was able to step back inside the door, pulling several students with her," she said.

The Rev. Jerry Jolly, a chaplain for the Arkansas State Police, said he arrived at the school within 20 minutes of the shooting and found the children still screaming in the gymnasium.

He told the students: "The shooters have been apprehended and your parents are on their way. You're safe."

The news calmed the students. "It seemed to bring peace," Jolly said.


2 boys ordered held in slayings

The Arizona Republic

March 29, 1998

Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden,, 11, the two boys accused of shooting to death four classmates and a teacher in Jonesboro, Ark., sit in silence as a judge ordered them detained while authorities decide how to prosecute them. Doug Golden, Andrew Golden's grandfather, says his grandson stole a number of guns from him and that the victims were ''selected because of their sex or who they were.''


Arkansas boy faces molestation charge

Ledger Dispatch

March 31, 1998

MINNEAPOLIS - The older of two boys held in the Arkansas schoolyard ambush is accused of molesting a little girl while he visited Minnesota last summer, according to an aunt and a former neighbor.

"It happened," Mitchell Johnson's aunt, Linda Koelsch of Spring Valley, told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. "He did it."


Boys held in school shooting are punished for jail pranks

San Jose Mercury News

May 9, 1998

The two boys accused of using a fire alarm to lure classmates and teachers into a hail of gunfire, killing five, have set off the jail fire-sprinkler system and gotten into a food fight with other inmates, thesheriff says.

The boys, who are being held in the juvenile wing at the Craighead County jail, were temporarily denied privileges, such as watching television and making telephone calls, Sheriff Dale Haas said Thursday.


New jail proposed for school-shooting suspects

The Buffalo News

August 10, 1998

If two boys are convicted of killing four fellow students and a teacher, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says he's willing to build a jail to hold them until they are 21.

The boys face a juvenile hearing Tuesday at which they will be found either innocent or guilty of being delinquent. If guilty, they can be jailed until age 21 under Arkansas law -- but the state has no facility to hold them past 18.


2 guilty in school deaths

Boys' detainment may go to age 21

The Arizona Republic

August 12, 1998

A juvenile court judge on Tuesday found two boys guilty of carrying out one of the most notorious schoolyard massacres in U.S. history, but all he could do was sentence them to a juvenile prison, perhaps until they turn 21.

Judge Ralph W. Wilson Jr. took only minutes to declare Mitchell Johnson, 14, and Andrew Golden, 12, delinquent for the ambush killings of four classmates and a teacher at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro. Nine students and a teacher also were wounded by the gunfire.


Shootings at Arkansas school

JONESBORO, Ark. -- An 11-year-old boy accused with his 13-year-old cousin of shooting five people to death outside a school had been trained in target shooting, a family friend said today.

Four girls and an English teacher who shielded a student from the attack were killed in the ambush Tuesday outside Westside Elementary School. Eleven others -- 10 students and a teacher -- were wounded. Six people remained hospitalized today, one in critical condition.

Authorities didn't release the boys' names, but The Jonesboro Sun identified them as Mitchell Johnson, 13, and his 11-year-old cousin Andrew Golden. Detention hearings for the boys were scheduled for this afternoon.

Authorities continued to search for answers to how the boys got their weapons and why they attacked. Police said Mitchell, who had been jilted by a girl and made threats, and Andrew lured classmates out of school with a false fire alarm, then mowed them down with gunfire.

Andrew's father, Dennis, is a leader of a local gun club, the Jonesboro Practical Pistol Shooters. Both he and his wife are postmasters at towns near here.

Terry Crider, a family friend and fellow shooting club member, said today that Dennis Golden began taking his son hunting as a young child and had recently begun training him in "practical shooting," a handgun competition with moving and pop-up targets. He said the boy was a pretty good shot, although fairly slow.

"Dennis and Pat both have tried as hard as any parents to raise their child right, teach him respect for life, teach him what firearms can do and how to handle them safely," Crider said. "So that's one of the things that kind of alarms me.

"They're trying seriously to get their heads together and figure out what happened themselves," Crider added. He had talked to the father earlier in the day.

Law officers also were trying to understand. Authorities said up to 27 shots were fired. Youngsters scrambled as some of their bloodied classmates fell and cried as they awaited emergency workers.

"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."

This morning, one big wreath, two bouquets and a candle were on the sidewalk in front of the school. Classes were canceled.

Killed were Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring and Stephanie Johnson, all 12, and Brittany R. Varner, 11. Shannon Wright, 32, died Tuesday night after surgery for wounds to her chest and abdomen. Students said she stepped in front of a sixth-grader as the shots rang out. The student was not hurt.

Mrs. Wright, the mother of a 2-1/2-year-old son, was kind and loving, said Lula Belle Jones, the school's cafeteria manager.

Asked about stepping in front of the bullet, Ms. Jones said: "She would do that without a doubt."

Under state law, children under age 14 are charged only in Juvenile Court. They may be held until they are 21, but usually are turned out of the system by 18 because of a lack of facilities.

Prosecutor Brent Davis said today his office would charge the boys with five counts of capital murder in Juvenile Court. However, state Attorney General Winston Bryant said earlier that a defendant must be 14 to be eligible for the death sentence.

In Little Rock, U.S. Attorney Paula Casey said her office was looking into whether it could charge the 13-year-old with federal firearms violations, though it was likely the 11-year-old would be off-limits.

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.

"He told us that tomorrow you will find out if you live or die," seventh-grader Melinda Henson, who described herself as a good friend of the boy, told the Sun.

"He told me yesterday that all the people who broke up with him, you know, he's going to come to school tomorrow and shoot them," said 12-year-old Charles Vanoven, another seventh-grader. "I thought he was just kidding around."

Charles said the 13-year-old also pulled a knife on another student Monday, but he was afraid to report him. 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, identified by several students as the former girlfriend, was listed in stable condition at St. Bernards Regional Medical Center.

The school has 250 students in sixth and seventh grades. 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.

"He'll sit there and say, 'Man, he's making me so mad I should just take my gun and start blasting him in the butt for it,"' Erica said. "You know he don't act like he's mad, but you really don't know about him. He's 11."

Her mother, Lisa Bearden, said it's simply part of the Southern culture to hunt, but added that youths aren't learning respect for the weapons.

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 Uganda, said he was "profoundly sad and ... disturbed" by the shootings in his home state.

The rampage 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 were fatally shot 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.


Golden & Johnson

In a disquieting trend that is turning rural schools into the postal office of the 90s, on March 24, 1998, two heavily armed kids dressed in camouflage opened fire on classmates and teachers in the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, killing five and wounding 10.

The snipers -- cousins Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11 -- lay hiding in the woods behind their school and started taking students down as they exited during a fake fire drill.

The kids were caught heading towards a white van where they had more guns and ammunition. Giving a psycho-sexual tone to the bloodshed, ten of the wounded -- as well as the five dead -- were female. Apparently Mitchell was recently dumped by his girlfriend.

A day before the massacre, the jilted 13-year-old boy warned friends, "he had a lot of killing to do." The girlfriend, Kim Candace Porter, was wounded in the massacre.

Jonesboro, a small rural community in Noreastern Arkansas, was been in a state of panic following the deadly ambush. Hordes of horrified parents rushed the school looking for their children. From Uganda President Clinton called the shooting "horrifying." In a written statement he said: "Like all Americans, Hillary and I are deeply shocked and heartbroken by this afternoon's horrifying events." Bob Trout, editor of the Jonesboro Star, said: "It's chaos here. It was a sniper kind of attack. This is the least likely place in the world where I thought it would happen. This is a usually quiet community."

"We thought it was just firecrackers," said one student. "I saw one of my teachers get shot. I started running towards the gym." Paramedic Charles Jones told reporters: "We had children lying everywhere. They had all been shot." Authorities identified the dead students as Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring, Stephanie Johnson, all 12, and Brittany R. Varner, who was 11. English teacher Shannon Wright, 32 -- who was pregnant -- died after surgery for wounds to her chest and abdomen.

When the smoke cleared the two boys were charged with the massacre. During the arraignment in a juvenile detention building in Joneboro, Mitchell -- with tears in his eyes -- held his mother's hand as she cried uncontrollably. Andrew was much more unemotional and even mustered a smiled. Under state law, children under age 14 can only be charged in Juvenile Court and can held in custody until they turn 18.

Friends and neighbors described "Drew" Golden as evil, demented, "a troublemaker," and "always threatening people." Although only 11, he was well-tutored by his dad -- the registered representative for a local gun club -- in shooting rifles, shotguns and pistols. Drew's grandfather, Doug Golden,said that the boy admitted pulling the fire alarm and that he fired some shots, but said he couldn't recall anything else.

His older cousin Mitchell was literally a choirboy who went to church when his parents didn't and held chairs politely for girls. Recently, he'd donned red clothing or camouflage outfits and boasted of being a member of a gang called The Bloods. (Curiously, The Bloods are a known South Central L.A. gang whose members tend to be black and/or Latino.) The day of the massacre the kids skipped school, stole a bunch of weapons from Andy's grandfather's shed, and took Michell's stepfather's van without permission.

"He told me yesterday that all the people who broke up with him, you know, he's going to come to school tomorrow and shoot them," said 12-year-old Charles Vanoven, another seventh-grader. "I thought he was just kidding around." Charles said Mitchell also had pulled a knife on another student, but he was afraid to report him. "He told us that tomorrow you will find out if you live or die," said seventh-grader Melinda Henson, who described herself as a good friend of Mitchell. As for his younger cousin, a classmate said: "He'll sit there and say, 'Man, he's making me so mad I should just take my gun and start blasting him in the butt for it.' You know he don't act like he's mad, but you really don't know about him. He's 11."

Attempting to explain the rise of school violence in the nation, Kevin Dwyer, assistant executive director of the National Assn. of School Psychologists, laid the blame squarely on the "availability of guns and the misdiagnosis of depression... It makes me cry. People don't take these kids seriously... They tell friends they're going to do something. They tell adults wait until you see what's going to happen. They send a lot of signals."

In another misguided attempt to blame rap music for society's ills, Debbie Pelley, an English teacher at the Jonesboro middle school, pointed at the music of Tupac Shakur and Bone Thugs 'N Harmony as inciting factors in Mitchell Johnson's shooting rampage. Pelley told a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, "Mitchell brought this music to school with him, listened to it on the bus, tried listening to it in classes, sang the lyrics over and over at school."

Several U.S. Senators, in their election year best, expressed concern that label warnings are failing to tell parents enough information about such music, which they said sends strong messages of violence and sex. Here at the Archives we think the government should start putting labels on weapons considering that regardless how much gansta-rap Mitchell listened to, without his hunting rifle he would have not killed anyone.


Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

March 27, 1999

JONESBORO -- Convicted Westside Middle School shooter Mitchell Johnson told police moments after his arrest on March 24, 1998, that Andrew Golden was upset at a teacher and "was tired of their crap," investigative reports released by prosecutors revealed.

Mitchell, then 13, and Andrew, then 11, were found delinquent on Aug. 11 of killing four students and a teacher in an ambush at the middle school. The gunfire wounded 10 other people.

Craighead County deputy prosecutor Mike Walden this week released part of the case file, which for the first time showed a possible motive.

Craighead County sheriff's Deputy Terry McNatt said in his report that heCraighead County investigators John Varner and Jon Moore handcuff Mitchell and Andrew near a county road behind the school moments after the shootings. McNatt said he heard an officer ask, "Why?"

"The suspect [Mitchell] said, 'Andrew was mad at a teacher,' " McNatt said. "He went on and freely stated, 'He was tired of their crap.' "

McNatt said he remembered Andrew from a Drug Abuse Resistance Education class that McNatt taught at the school. "The best I can recall, Andrew was a very good student and never caused myself any problems," McNatt said.

McNatt did not indicate which teacher Andrew may have been mad at.

Mitchell killed sixth-grade English teacher Shannon Wright, 32, with a .30-06 rifle, the reports indicated. Andrew wounded sixth-grade world history teacher Lynette Thetford, 42, with a .30-caliber carbine.

Andrew was a student in Wright's class.

McNatt said Mitchell appeared quiet and "nervous" as officers searched him before transporting him to Craighead County jail.

McNatt said Mitchell told officers that the shootings were Andrew's idea.

Arkansas State Police investigator Rick Dickinson said in his report that he also heard an officer ask "Why?" when the two boys were arrested. Dickinson said he heard Mitchell reply, "Anger, I guess."

Mitchell later said, "He [Andrew] asked me if I would help him do it, and I said 'Yes.' " The released documents contain more than 300 pages and include transcripts of the March 25, 1998, probable cause hearing and an April 2 hearing to determine whether the youth adjudication should be open to the public. They also feature ballistic reports, crime scene diagrams and several officers' arrest reports.

Craighead County Circuit-Chancery Judge Ralph Wilson Jr. ordered the reports' release on Tuesday. Walden said he did not give the media the reports until Thursday because of a memorial service for the five victims Wednesday in Jonesboro.

The documents also confirm which boy shot which victim. According to ballistic reports, Andrew shot a .30-caliber semiautomatic carbine. He killed Paige Herring, 12; Natalie Brooks, 11; and Britthney Varner, 11, the report said.

Andrew also wounded Thetford and student Whitney Irving.

Mitchell killed Wright and wounded Crystal Barnes, Candace Porter and Ashley Betts with a .30-06 semiautomatic rifle with a scope, the report said.

A state Crime Laboratory report indicated that bullet fragments from the body of Stephanie Johnson, 12, could not be used to determine which rifle fired the bullet. Basing its findings on the bullet's trajectory, a police report said Mitchell likely fired the bullet.

The reports did not show which of the two injured the five other students.

The documents included information released by police after the shootings and during the adjudication hearing and revealed that three handguns found on the boys were taken from beneath a mattress in the home of Doug Golden, Andrew's grandfather.

The two rifles used in the shootings and a .44-caliber handgun were taken from a gun rack in Golden's living room.

Police also itemized food found in a gray 1991 Dodge Caravan owned by Terry and Gretchen Woodard, Mitchell's stepfather and mother. Several cans of beans, soup and fruit, 11 packages of dried beef strips, tuna and crackers, snacks, and a package of candy were found in a toolbox in the van. The pair stole the van and drove it to the school.

Gretchen Woodard said last month that Mitchell told her he intended to drive Andrew to Ravenden in Lawrence County, drop him off and return the van after the shootings. Woodard said her son told her that Andrew hoped to camp in the woods and live off the food.

Mitchell and Andrew tested negative on urine and blood drug tests, the report said.

Woodard told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that five hours before the shootings, Mitchell told his family a funny story about how an elderly lady grabbed his ear while he sang at a Jonesboro nursing home.

Mitchell's tale ran long, and he missed the school bus that morning. He told his mother that Terry Woodard would drive him to school.

Instead, Mitchell drove the family's van and picked up classmate Andrew. The two stopped at three gas stations before one let the boys fill up.

They drove to the home of Doug Golden, an area technician for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, broke in and stole the weapons and about 3,000 rounds of ammunition.

Then they headed to the school.

The two boys are incarcerated in the Alexander Youth Services Center. They could be released by their 18th birthdays because the state does not have a center for youth offenders 18 to 21.

Had they been charged as adults, they could have been sentenced to terms in the state Department of Correction.


27 bullets

27 bullets, 15 bodies. When the fire alarm went off shortly after 12:30 p.m. last Tuesday, teachers and students at Westside Middle School marched dutifully outside. Four minutes and 27 bullets later, 15 bodies lay bleeding on the pavement. Police quickly apprehended Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, dressed head to toe in camouflage, carrying 13 loaded firearms.

Earlier that morning, police say, Johnson had feigned a stomachache to persuade his mother not to send him to school. When she went to work he told her to leave the keys to the family van behind, so his stepfather could take it to the shop for repairs. Then Johnson--several years away from being old enough for a learner's permit--drove the van over to Golden's house, where his friend was waiting.

When police recovered the Dodge minivan that afternoon, it was loaded with backwoods gear: field rations, sleeping bags, forest netting, and hunting knives. The vehicle also contained a diaper bag, various dolls, and a stuffed pink bunny rabbit.

The 11-year-old Golden owned a personal arsenal, including two rifles, a shotgun, and a crossbow. (In Arkansas, children are not permitted to own handguns, but they are legally free to possess as many long guns as they wish.) But Golden's parents were safety conscious: They kept the weapons in a steel vault and did not give their son the combination. The two boys tried to break the safe open with a hammer and blowtorch but grew frustrated before they could force the door. The pair snatched three handguns and some ammunition that hadn't been locked up, then continued to search for more firepower.

They apparently broke into the basement of Golden's grandfather, where they took three semiautomatic rifles from a gun rack and an assortment of pistols from various hiding places throughout the house. Doug Golden, the grandfather, says the stolen weapons included a 30-.06 deer rifle, a .44-caliber Ruger Magnum rifle, and a World War II-vintage carbine with two 30-round clips, as well as 1,000 rounds of ammo.

Remorseful. Doug Golden says his grandson has confessed much of what happened next: The boys drove to a gravel road near the school, set up an ambush, and "Drew" Golden sneaked in to set off the fire alarm. Their quarry flushed out, the marksmen took aim and started firing. Neither boy has specifically admitted to targeting classmates: Drew told his grandfather he only remembers shooting at a car. Scott Johnson, Mitchell's father, a long-haul trucker who was on the road when he heard the news, did not deny the elder boy's involvement: "My son was remorseful," he said.

Johnson, described by classmates as a swaggering bully, and Golden, a gun enthusiast, might each have been harmless on his own, but together they formed a combustible duo. Johnson, the elder, was by all accounts the leader. He moved to Jonesboro with his mother only two years ago, shortly after his parents' divorce. Friends in his hometown of Spring Valley, Minn., say that after years of being teased about his weight, Johnson had started to cultivate a tough, aggressive attitude when he came back to spend summer vacations with his father. In Arkansas, classmates say Johnson picked on younger kids, got into fistfights, and even issued death threats. One person on his list of enemies was sixth-grade teacher Shannon Wright, who would die while sheltering a student from the hail of bullets. "He would say, 'I'm going to kill her,' " Micah Angel, 10, says. "He said she was mean and gave him too much work, and was nice to everyone but him."

Johnson's menace was not limited to schoolmates and teachers. Tim Bonham, a neighbor of Johnson's, told of past incidents of recklessness: "I had to run him off the property twice last year," he says. "He had a shotgun and was shooting towards the house." Bonham said Johnson had a companion, another boy about the same age, but he couldn't tell who the child was.

What seems to have tipped Johnson over the line, however, was romantic rejection by an 11-year-old girl. Candace Porter, who is in stable condition after being wounded in the attack, told Johnson she didn't want to date him, and the boy took the rebuff very hard. According to Kara Tate, a sixth grader, "Mitchell said he was going to shoot Candace, then kill everybody else in the building."

Family members paint a different picture of the teen. "Mitchell knew right from wrong," his mother, Gretchen Woodard, told ABC's 20/20. She said a few days earlier he had gone with a church group to sing at a nursing home. "He went from that to a massacre. I don't have no answers. . . . Mitchell will pay for the rest of his life."

Friends in Jonesboro recall him singing in the church choir and holding doors open for girls. Perhaps the contradictions were best captured by a classmate the day of the shooting: "He was real polite," said Lacey Hawkins, 12, "but yesterday he said he was going to kill a bunch of people."

Drew Golden, by contrast, looks less like a bully than like a bully's victim. His grandfather recalls urging him to stand up to Johnson in the past. Small, slight, appearing even younger than his 11 years, in custody he seemed lost in an orange prison jumpsuit many sizes too large. But firearms are a great equalizer: Golden comes from a family of avid shooters and has been surrounded by guns his entire life. His father, Dennis, is a cofounder of a local gun club devoted to "practical pistol shooting," a sport in which participants fire at mobile or pop-up targets to better approximate real-life conditions.

Although Drew competed in target shooting, it was without great success. A fellow gun club member says, "He was not very accurate and he wasn't very fast." For the schoolyard ambush, however, the shooter had help: The rifle's scope had an accuracy range of 200 yards, and the targets were less than 100 yards away.


The boys behind the ambush

One is 13; the other 11. raised around guns, they're accused of opening fire on their schoolmates on an Arkansas afternoon. Why do kids kill ?

They Didn't Go To School Tuesday morning, not that anyone took any particular notice of their absence. The day before, 11-year-old Andrew Golden had driven with his father, Dennis, to his grand-parents' farm in little Bono, Ark., to pick up his dog, Curly.

Back home Tuesday morning, sometime after bis parents left for their jobs as postmasters, he was joined by big 13-year-old friend Mitchell Johnson. Johnson had his parents' van.

In the back was a variety of survival gear: a tent and sleeping bag, various tools, a box full of food and enormous quantities of ammunition. With a hammer and a propane torch they tried, according to law-enforcement officials and family members, to break open a gun safe m Golden's home, but failed, and took three handguns instead.

They drove a few miles to the farm, broke into the house through a basement door and emerged with four handguns and three high-powered rifles. Dressed in camouflage, they headed for a gravel road that led to a little woods behind their school.

Apart from the bloodshed itself, what the world found shocking about the ambush at Westside Middle School last week was how carefully it was planned, the quantity of weapons assembled by two boys not yet old enough to drive legally and their cleverness in pulling a fire alarm to empty the school right into their field of fire. Golden, if convicted, would almost certainly be the youngest multiple murderer ever. Johnson would be close behind.

So determined were the suspected shooters, so ruthlessly efficient-scoring 15 hits in less than a minute, five of them fatal-that it was doubly shocking a day later when they turned back into frightened little boys, crying in their cells for their mothers and requesting, under a childish misapprehension of the meaning of jail, to exchange their chicken dinner for a pizza.

So much innocence, so much evil, bound up together in what is already one of nature's greatest enigmas, the adolescent boy.

The killings had an impenetrable senselessness that hung like a cloud over Jonesboro, a blue-collar, Bible-belt city of 51,000 in the northeast corner of the state. If the tornado that briefly touched down there Friday evening had carried off five lives, no one would have needed, or expected, to find a deeper meaning in the event. But the specter of death at the hands of sixth and seventh graders cries out for answers.

The closest anyone came to an explanation last week-that Johnson was unhappy about a girl who either refused to go out with him or had broken up with him-explained nothing; if every 13-year-old reacted this way to rejection, killings like these would happen every week. Among the busiest people in Jonesboro last week were the pastors of its hundred or so churches, working on the sermons that would help their bewildered congregations make sense of the loss of four young girls and a teacher with a 2-year-old son at home.

The very busiest were the law-enforcement officials, forced to admit, after a frantic search through the lawbooks and consultations with federal prosecutors (who declined, at this time, to step into the case) that no matter what they may be convicted of, both boys would be freed no later than their 18th birthdays-five and seven years off, respectively. (Reached by NEWSWEEK, Golden's lawyer, Val Price, would not comment, saying, "In Arkansas, juvenile proceedings are closed." Johnson's lawyer, Bill Howard, said, "Neither boy has made a statement to the authorities.")

Of course, the Arkansas lawmakers who set 14 as the minimum age for an adult felony conviction had no way of anticipating that the 1990s would be marked by a peculiarly gruesome trend of youngsters massacring their schoolmates. "A decade ago, the idea of shooting up a schoolyard wouldn't cross anyone's mind," says James Fox, dean of criminal justice at Northeastern University. "Now young people have prior examples.

These kids probably couldn't spell Paducah"-the Kentucky city where a 14-year-old allegedly opened fire on a school prayer group last December, killing three-"but they'd heard of it." That incident-one of four school shootings last year, in which a total of nine people died- was also described as "senseless." (The small number of murders committed by children under 14 has barely budged in 20 years, Fox points out, but among older teens it's double the rate it was just a dozen years ago.)

The senselessness created a vacuum that both experts and people on the street were happy to fill with theories. Among the root causes of last week's tragedy, it was confidently asserted, were videogames, violent TV shows and inadequate male role models.

A widely disseminated photo of a 6-year-old Andrew Golden squinting down the barrel of a very businesslike-looking pistol gave rise to much derisive speculation about the rural Southern culture of guns and hunting. (The New York Daily News, published in a region where the most common use of handguns is in sticking up grocery stores, ran the picture under a front-page headline reading BORN TO KILL.)

Arkansans, predictably, rejected the idea that the familiar pastime of shooting could have contributed to the tragedy. "It's a sport, like fishing," said Jonesboro Mayor Hubert Brodell. "[Hunting] is done by husband and wife, by father and son and daughter. This is family."

It certainly was a part of Golden's family. Andrew's father was an active member of the Practical Pistol Shooters club and had introduced the boy to "practical shooting," a competition to hit moving or pop-up targets. His grandfather Doug Golden, who works at a fish and game reserve, had helped introduce Andrew to hunting. He recently built a duck blind for the boy, who, he said proudly, "killed his first duck this year." To outsiders unfamiliar with hunting weapons, it may have seemed that hitting 15 people at 100 yards, using what authorities said appeared to be only around two dozen rounds, was an extraordinary feat of marksmanship.

But among the hunting cognoscenti in Arkansas, it wasn't that surprising: with the powerful scope on- one of the rifles used in the ambush, almost anyone could have done it.

But nothing about Andrew's interest in guns would have set him apart in Jonesboro. He had other interests: Go-Kart racing, baseball, trumpet in the school band. He enjoyed playing with computers and even sent an e-mail to the White House. "He wrote that his grandfather was a big fan of the president," Doug Golden says proudly. "He got a reply hack from the White House right away."

Psychologists say that one of the surest signs of an incipient sociopath is a child who likes to tease or torture animals. Andrew was, according to his grandmother Jackie, exactly the opposite; when he wasn't hunting them, he was busy saving them. "Birds, squirrels, anything like that he loved, and wanted to catch and keep and love them."

Others, admittedly, saw a different side of Golden. "He's just one of those mean-spirited kids," says a neighbor, Lloyd Brooks, who describes Andrew's walking around the neighborhood with a hunting knife strapped to his leg. "We knew the kid was evil, but never that evil."

Brooks's harshness is understandable: his brother's daughter, 11-year-old Natalie Brooks, was shot to death on Tuesday, and his own daughter, Jenna, was grazed by a bullet. Another neighbor, Pearl Grove, describes Golden as "a perfectly normal kid" from "a typical, happy American family."

One person who believes she can be objective about Andrew was his science teacher, Debbie Spencer. She recalls him as a quiet kid whose grades had recently improved from C's to B's, a kid with "big bright eyes" and a quick grin. She can still easily picture him sitting at the desk he shared with one of the girls he liked to tease, Britthney Varner. Varner, shot in the abdomen, was buried on Saturday.

Mitchell Johnson also grew up with guns in his house, although not in the South; with his brother, Monte, two years younger, he spent his childhood in Grand Meadow and nearby Spring Valley, small towns in southeast Minnesota. His father, Scott, is a truck-driver; his mother, Gretchen, was a guard at the federal prison medical center in Rochester, Minn.

A former Grand Meadow police chief, Tom Hinze, described Johnson as a "troubled" child whose parents occasionally lost track of his whereabouts and called Hinze to help find him. On one of those occasions, Hinze said, he saw a .357' pistol on a table in Johnson's house, and warned Gretchen Johnson that the gun should be secured. "She assured me her kids wouldn't mess with it," Hinze told Newsweek. Mitchell was 8 or 9 years old at the time. "When he came to my house to play with my kids, I didn't allow it," Hinze said. "When parents come to me on more than one occasion looking for their kid, I think there's a problem."

There were some minor scrapes with the law. In 1993, the year the couple separated, Scott Johnson was fired for stealing meat from the grocery where he worked. In 1995, Gretchen Johnson, now divorced, moved to Jonesboro to join Terry Woodard. Woodard, convicted on drug and fire-arms charges, had been an inmate at Rochester at the same time Gretchen worked there. They married in 1997.

Neighbors in Minnesota- where Mitchell frequently visited his father and grandparents after moving south with his mother-paint a picture of a friendly, boisterous youth who seemed to have changed radically in the last year. "Our kids are the same age as Mitch and Monte, and they played together all the time," said Geri Braun, who owns a local bowling alley. "Then last summer, they said he'd changed.

Mitchell was bragging that he smoked heroin and weed, that he'd joined a gang." A 13-year-old self-described "best friend" told NEWSWEEK a melodramatic tale of talking Mitchell out of shooting or hanging himself last summer, after a girlfriend rejected him. "He went into the bathroom and started crying," the friend said. "He told me, 'I just got dumped and I'm going to commit suicide'."

Apparently this account-which is either suspiciously or persuasively similar to media reports that Mitchell was angry over a girl's rejection last week-was never reported to authorities.

Back in Arkansas, some of Mitchell's classmates also noticed a change in him. "He'd been acting strange, making gang signs and stuff," said Colby Brooks, a sixth grader who knows him. He at various times seemed to claim loyalty to both the Crips and the Bloods, equally improbable alliances for a white seventh grader in rural Arkansas. Whether fueled by romantic desperation or something else, his anger seemed to boil over on Monday. "He said to me and to Jamie Clevenger, 'I got a lot of killing to do'," said one classmate, Michael

Barnes. "Jamie said, 'Am I going to get killed?' and he said, 'You'll find out'." Spencer, the teacher, thinks that Mitchell had a tendency to "exaggerate ... he was full of hot air." She heard no talk of gangs, and tends to doubt that he was really driven over the edge by lovesickness. "For the most part, these kids are sheltered and innocent," she says. "They start kissing in the seventh grade." She wonders if some of the accounts that surfaced after the shooting might have something to do with the well-known human desire to see one's name in print, and muses, "Part of me wonders if students knew more and didn't tell me.

When the fire-alarm bell sounded at 12:30 Tuesday afternoon, only one person took it as a sign of trouble-the principal, Karen Curtner, who knew that no fire drill was scheduled. Listlessly, children and teachers began heading for the exits and out into the breezy, sunny afternoon.

Later, there would be much speculation about why only one boy was among the 15 victims. Police officials said there is no evidence the shooters were targeting specffic individuals. But Spencer suspects the reason is that most of the boys were in the gym at that time, which has a different fire exit from the sixth-grade classroom wing. Golden and Johnson, she adds, would have known that from their vantage point in the woods, they would have mostly girls in their sights.

Spencer walked out behind a music class, got a few feet down the path, then heard the bangs and in the same instant saw Stephanie Johnson fall to the ground. Then, chaos: Tristan McGowan, the only boy hit, held up his right arm to her. "Ms. Spencer, I'm bleeding!" he said. They ran back toward the doors, which had now locked behind them, and pounded until someone came to open them from inside.

Spencer found a girl, Brittney Lambie, shot in the leg and losing blood rapidly; she ran for a first-aid kit and began fashioning a tourniquet. Just on the other side of the wall, teacher Shannon Wright, 32, lay bleeding on the ground; she had pushed a girl down, out of the way of the bullets, and, shielding the girl's body with her own, taken a bullet in the chest and side.

Police later found shell casings in two spots in the trees, roughly 20 feet apart. Johnson, they believe, was firing a heavy .30-06, a big-game and military rifle with a five-round clip; Golden apparently used a lighter .30-caliber carbine. The boys themselves, who had been spotted by workers building a new wing of the school, were apprehended in the woods-mercifully, without incident. Johnson's father heard the news on the radio in Texas.

He dropped his trailer and racedinhis cabtobewithhis son. Mitchell, he told reporters, "kept saying he was sorry. He was sorry, and he wishes he could take it back." Golden, who seemed almost insouciant in his court appearance, is said to be sobbing in his cell and wants to sit on his grandmother's lap when she visits. And everyone says the same thing in Jonesboro now, the relatives of the suspects, of the victims, townspeople and teachers. They're sorry it happened, and it was so very, very senseless.


Victims

Natalie Brooks was a chatty, 11-year old before she died Wednesday from gunshot wounds. She and victim Brittany Varner, 11, played softball together. But Natalie planned to try out for the cheerleading squad. The New York Times reports she liked the things most girls her age like: Hanson, the Spice Girls and Leonardo DiCaprio. Her funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Emerson Funeral Home's Memorial Chapel in Jonesboro.

Brittany Varner, 11, was both the smallest and the youngest of the four girls shot dead Tuesday in their schoolyard. Friends said the cheerful, friendly girl sometimes lost track of her softball games while talking in the outfield with her friend Natalie, also killed in the shooting. Varner was shot in the back. Funeral services will be held Saturday.

Paige Ann Herring, 12, the tallest of the four slain girls, played basketball and volleyball. Her little sister, who attends the elementary school next door, would watch her play basketball. Her funeral is scheduled Friday.

By most accounts, 12-year-old Stephanie Johnson was a shy girl. She had moved into the area only recently and students said she kept to herself, except when she feared that she had offended somebody. 'She never did really get mad at anybody,' said student Erica Swindle. Johnson's funeral is set for Friday night.

Shannon Wright died a hero. Survivors of the deadly shooting spree said the 32-year old English teacher jumped in front of one of her homeroom students, sacrificing her life to save that of sixth-grader Emma Pittman. Wright took two bullets and Emma was unharmed. Wright's husband and son will remember her at funeral services set for Saturday at noon.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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