Murder Charges Filed Against Boys In School Shooting Neither Old Enough For Trial As Adult; Tragedy Shatters Town

People here struggled Wednesday to understand the terror that erupted in their midst a day earlier when two boys went on a shooting rampage at a middle school, killing four girls and a teacher, and wounding 11 others.

They tied white ribbons to mailboxes, to telephone poles, to street signs and to the grills of their automobiles, and they tried to decipher the tragedy that has altered their perception of their community.

“It just destroys your innocence,” said Sandi Trusty, 37, owner of a daycare center in the tiny community of Bono where most of the victims lived. “There’s just no explaining it. You just don’t understand it. You hurt so bad for the victims and their families, and even for the two children that did it.”

Police said the boys, clad in camouflage shirts, pants and hats, opened fire, shooting at least 27 rounds with a collection of handguns and long guns, including a .44-caliber handgun and a 30.06-caliber hunting rifle.

Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring and Stephanie Johnson, all 12, and Brittany Varner, 11, were killed. English teacher Shannon Wright, 32, who stepped in front of a sixth grader as the shooting continued, died Tuesday night after surgery for wounds to her chest and abdomen.

The boys were arrested almost immediately after the shooting.

In their first public appearance Wednesday, looking small and scared in orange jail uniforms, the boys were charged with five counts of capital murder and 10 counts of battery in a hearing at the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department and Detention Center. A trial date was set for April 29.

Under Arkansas law, both suspects can be charged only as juveniles because they are under 14 years of age. If convicted, they would stay in prison until age 21, but juvenile offenders in Arkansas typically are released at age 18 because of a lack of facilities.

Prosecutor Brent Davis said he is exploring “other avenues” for prosecuting the boys, including charging the 13-year-old with federal firearms violations.

Gov. Mike Huckabee said he would work with the Legislature “to determine what, if any, other measures should be taken to properly address this kind of inexplicable and unthinkable behavior.”

President Clinton said Wednesday that he wants Attorney General Janet Reno to study the incident and two recent ones like it to determine if there are any “common elements.”

Clinton said he hopes an analysis of the case, and two similar ones last year in Kentucky and Mississippi, might help federal and local authorities figure out how to prevent such acts in schools.

“I just want to say again how profoundly sad I am and how disturbed I am … Today the people in my home state and a town I know very well are grieving,” Clinton told reporters traveling with him in Africa. “They’re suffering losses, and we should focus on that. But I do think in the weeks to come we have to analyze these incidents and see whether or not we can learn anything that will tell us what we can do to prevent further ones.”

Many questions remain unanswered, such as where the boys got the guns and what provoked the horrific attack.

The grandfather of the 11-year-old told The Associated Press Wednesday that the boy admitted stealing seven guns from him and pulling the fire alarm that forced the victims into the line of fire.

The grandfather said the boy did not confess to killing anyone, however, saying he couldn’t recall what happened.

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