JONESBORO, Ark. – $150 million in civil damages were just awarded to the families of the victims of the Westside School shooting almost 20 years after the tragedy.
On Monday before a Craighead County Circuit Court, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, the Westside school shooters, each had judgments levied against them by Judge John Fogleman. The judgments were awarded to the families of the five deceased victims, a source in the courtroom informed NEA Report.
Against Johnson, a summary judgment was issued for $10 million in compensatory damages and another $10 million in punitive damages for each of the five people he killed, totaling $100 million.
A judgment was also reached for Golden. NEA Report was told it was a similar, yet $5 million judgment for both relief and punitive. This would be a $50 million judgment against the younger of the two.
Neither the two mass shooters, both free men, were present at Monday’s hearing, a source in the courtroom said.
The plaintiffs in the case were represented collectively by McDaniel Law Firm, PLC, court documents show.
Johnson was 13 and Golden was 11 when the two committed the horrendous Westside School shooting. Golden pulled the fire alarm, causing 87 students and nine teachers to evacuate the building. As he returned outside to Johnson’s location, the two opened fire on the group. Sixth-grade teacher Shannon Wright was killed. Four students died, including Natalie Brooks, 11, Paige Ann Herring, 12, Stephanie Johnson, 12, and Brittheny Varner, 11. Nine students and another teacher, Lynette Thetford, were injured.
Unlike most school shootings which have occurred since the terrible incident on March 24, 1998, the two shooters escaped the scene alive. They were arrested and both were convicted of their heinous crimes. But since neither were age 14, Arkansas law prevented them from being jailed past their 21st birthdays.
Monday’s lawsuit was filed in the western district of the Circuit Court of Craighead County. In the plaintiff’s statement, they allege “defendants Golden and Johnson perpetrated a deliberate and premeditated mass shooting at the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro.”
To read more background on the Westside School shooting, visit the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History & Culture.
Just as NEA Report was going to press with this story, this press release was issued from the McDaniel Law Firm:
(Jonesboro, AR) — Monday, Judge John Fogleman entered a judgment in the total amount of $150,000,000.00 against Andrew Golden, a/k/a Drew Grant, and Mitchel Johnson for the damages resulting from the March 28, 1998, mass shooting at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro, AR. Golden and Johnson were ages 11 and 13 at the time of the shootings. After sounding a false fire alarm, the defendants ambushed teachers and children evacuating the school. Fifteen people were shot. Five people lost their lives that day: teacher Shannon Wright and students Natalie Brooks, Paige Herring, Stephanie Johnson and Brittney Varner.
The wrongful death suit that resulted in today’s judgment was filed in 1998, but due to the defendants’ age, incarceration, name changes and leaving the state, “it took until today for the families of those who died to tell the court what this act of evil has done to impact their lives,” said Jonesboro Attorney Bobby McDaniel, attorney for all five families.
Each family was awarded $10,000,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages against Mitchell Johnson. Each family was also awarded $5,000,000 in compensatory damages and $5,000,000 in punitive damages against Andrew Golden, a/k/a Drew Grant.
Neither defendant appeared in court today, and the plaintiffs have no reason to believe they will ever actually collect any money. “If either of them tries to sell their story for a book or movie deal, or wins the lottery, this judgment means they can’t get rich without paying these families first,” McDaniel said.
Pam Herring, mother of Paige Herring, said “this effort was never about any money for us. We had to honor our loved ones and tell the court how much it hurt to have them taken from us, even all these years later. We also hope something can be learned from their depositions which may help prevent a similar incident in the future. We all appreciate the support from the Jonesboro community and from around the country.”
Since being released from prison for the shootings, Johnson was arrested on unrelated charges and sent to federal prison. He was located this year in Texas. Golden was found to be living in Missouri living under the assumed name of Drew Grant.
Press Release – Bobby McDaniel