true crime

Andrew Golden was only 11 when he and a friend opened fire on their school.

Andrew Golden was in early primary school when he first fired a gun. The Arkansas boy’s father and grandfather were avid hunters, and watched young Andrew cut his teeth on ducks, squirrels and rabbits on weekends. By the time he was in sixth grade, he’d shot live ammunition from both pistols and rifles.

This was a boy who was comfortable with his finger on a trigger.

On March 24, 1998, 11-year-old Andrew raised the barrel of a gun, just as he’d done on countless occasions throughout his childhood. But this time, his 13-year-old friend, Mitchell Johnson, was standing armed alongside him, ready to fire. This time, his gun was pointed toward Westside Middle School.

The boys killed five people that day: 12-year-olds Paige Herring and Stephanie Johnson, 11-year-olds Brittney Varner and Natalie Brooks, and teacher, Shannon Wright. At the time, it was the second deadliest school shooting in US history.

Video via ABC

On Tuesday, more than 21 years since that rampage, it was reported that Andrew Golden, 33, has died.

According to Arkansas station, KAIT, Andrew, who changed his name to Drew Grant after his imprisonment over the massacre, died in a head-on collision on a local highway over the weekend. The other driver, a 59-year-old man, was also killed. It remains unclear who was responsible for the crash.

The Westside Middle School massacre.

In the weeks leading up to the shooting, alarm bells rung about Andrew and Mitchell’s behaviour.

The friends, who had met on the school bus, both spoke often about firearms, and Andrew would reportedly engage in fist fights with fellow students. Three months prior to the massacre, he was called into the school counsellor’s office after a pupil reported that he’d spoken about killing people at the school, The Independent reported. Andrew told the counsellor that he’d had a nightmare that scared him enough to abandon his plan; “He had dreamed that he had killed people at the school, but that at the end, he had also died,” the outlet reported.

Mitchell, who claimed to be in a gang, also spoke openly about his desire to take lives. According to The Independent, he was particularly angered by girls who had rejected him, especially fellow student Candace Porter. The day before the shooting, he told friends he had “a lot of killing to do” and that they would know the next day if they were destined to live or die.

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Their plan had already been hatched.

That night, Andrew loaded his mother’s van with camping supplies, food, nine weapons, all stolen from his family, and 2000 rounds of ammunition.

The following morning, Andrew and Mitchell feigned illness to get out of class. At the beginning of fifth period, around 12.30pm, Andrew pulled the fire alarm and ran to nearby woods where Mitchell was waiting with their stockpile of weapons.

As their classmates and teachers filed from the building, they opened fire.

Mitchell Johnson in 2000. Image: Arkansas Online.

A Westside teacher, Debbie Spencer, previously told Buzzfeed News that confusion reigned in those first few minutes.

"When I walked out, I saw Stephanie Johnson," she said. "I thought somebody had pushed her because she went forward. I started to run towards her and that's when she was hit again. She didn't get her hands up. She just fell. Then I heard the sound of the gun."

Beyond those who died, a further ten people were injured in the shooting, including Candace Porter — the girl who had turned Mitchell down.

Police arrived within minutes, and managed to apprehend the shooters at the scene.

Both were tried as juveniles and convicted of multiple counts of murder and assault, which saw them imprisoned until they turned 21. For Mitchell Johnson, that was August 11, 2005, after seven years behind bars. He has spent the years since in and out of prison on various firearm, drugs and theft charges.

For Andrew Golden, release came in May 25, 2007, after nine years.

He was reportedly living in the neighbouring state of Missouri at the time of his death.

Tags: gun-violence , news-stories , true-crime
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