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.Spencer has broad shoulders, long brown hair, and a warm, motherly disposition.When Golden pulled that fire alarm, she was in her classroom alone.Five trees, planted to commemorate the five who died that afternoon, now dot the hillside behind the school, each 7 or 8 feet high.
There's a smattering of small, boxy houses and graying buildings — a truck and ATV accessories store, a Kum & Go gas station, Kelley's IGA supermarket, a grim-looking H&R Block office, the Bono Church of Christ, a dilapidated but possibly still operational Warrior Gym — but nothing resembling the kind of town square that can lend even the most down-on-its-heels Southern backwater a steely nobility. The school is about five miles from Bono — drive south for a few minutes on Highway 63, then take a two-lane road for just over a mile, through hills dotted with small houses, country churches, and one scrap-metal yard piled with rusted-out vehicles, until you reach a hilltop where the middle school, high school, and elementary school that make up the Westside Consolidated School District (motto: "Heading in the Right Direction") are spread across a large patch of land.
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.
The student who'd been dragged inside, a seventh-grader named Brittney Lambie, fell right beside Fuller, bleeding.
As Fuller huddled with the students, one of them told her it was Mitchell Johnson out there shooting; he'd told him not to come to school that day.