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In the days that followed, the world gasped at images of tearful sheriffs, horrified parents, and stunned schoolchildren, asking what could possibly push two young boys to such violence against their classmates and friends, and how this small Southern community could ever find a way to go on.
Then, a few weeks passed, and the satellite trucks, the helicopters, and the reporters picked up and left, and the rest of the world moved on.
Fuller had experienced several unpleasant run-ins with Johnson and was immediately convinced she was one of his intended targets — a fact, she says, that was later corroborated for her by the prosecuting attorney in the case.
"A part of me thought, If I just go out there, he'll quit," says Fuller. I was checking out."At this point, Spencer says she heard a voice — "it was God or Brittney's guardian angel" — giving her instructions.
The hulking two-story gymnasium wall has been patched to repair the pockmarks from the stray bullets.
The sidewalk that jutted out from the door to the sixth-grade hallway was pulled up the year after the shooting.
I started to run towards her and that's when she was hit again. A seventh-grader named Tristan Mc Gowan grabbed her and complained he'd been cut. "He held up his arm, and I could see where two bullets went through." She told him to follow her back into the building, but when she got to the doors, he'd taken off in the other direction and the doors had locked automatically because of the fire alarm.
"I just remember the sheer terror: Something's getting our kids and we can't get back in."After a few moments, another teacher opened the doors from the inside.
The parking lot of the elementary school next door filled with satellite trucks, news helicopters circled, and reporters hounded anyone with even the most tenuous connection to the shooting or the victims.
Past the school, the road flattens out into an expanse of farmland toward the tiny towns of Egypt and Cash.
Most of Westside's students come from around here and refer to Jonesboro — a town of more than 60,000 with its own daily newspaper, small airport, and Division I college (Arkansas State University) — as "the city."In 1998, Debbie Spencer's classroom was on a different hall than the one she teaches in now, but she and Betty Fuller, who was the teacher in charge of in-school suspensions at the time of the shooting, show me her old corridor one afternoon in January, just after school has let out.
Today, the shooting is a historical footnote, and Jonesboro is just another name on a depressingly long list of places that seem cursed to be remembered — in some cases, barely — for the schoolyard carnage they played host to: Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, Littleton, Red Lake, Nickel Mines, Newtown.
The details of each of these towns' tragedies are uniquely horrible, but with a decade and a half of distance, the story of what happened to this place and to these people — the students and faculty who lived through it, the families of those who didn't, the first responders, the shooters themselves — feels at times like an inspiration, and at others, like a grim cautionary tale.