March 29, 1998 in Nation/World

Teacher’s Funeral Caps Days Of Tears ‘Hero’ Wright Shielded Student During Arkansas Shooting Spree

Sue Anne Pressley Washington Post
 

Even when she was a very young girl, Shannon Wright knew she wanted to be a teacher, regularly forcing her younger brother to play her student while she drilled him on spelling words and math problems.

By the time her funeral was held Saturday, nearly everyone in America seemed to know the story of Wright - how she was fatally shot Tuesday while shielding a student from the spray of gunfire coming from two young boys at her school. Wright, 32, was lauded as a devoted wife and mother, a passionate teacher, and a heroine who apparently gave no thought to saving her own life in those horrific moments outside Westside Middle School - her own alma mater. Another teacher, Lynette Thetford, also was wounded in the ambush.

“The word ‘hero’ has been used a lot since everything happened,” Pastor Gary Cremeens told the crowd of several hundred mourners at Bono Church of Christ. “If you’re looking for a definition of a hero, you need look no further than Shannon or Lynette. There are people who are alive today because of them.”

The sad round of funerals ended Saturday in this city of 50,000 in northeastern Arkansas, as residents paid their respects to the victims of Tuesday’s shooting spree. First groups of mourners filed tearfully past the open casket of Stephanie Johnson, 12; nearby, a bulletin board featured photographs of a smiling Stephanie from infancy to the present. Later, Britthney Varner, 11, was remembered as a good student and friend, with classmates from her sixth-grade class serving as honorary pallbearers. On Friday, services were held for Paige Ann Herring, 12, and Natalie Brooks, 11.

Nine other students were wounded during the shooting spree, which began after classes had filed outdoors in response to a false fire alarm. Two of Wright’s former students, Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, have been charged with five counts each of murder and 10 counts of battery in a baffling episode that may label them as the youngest mass murderers in U.S. history.

Student Emma Pittman, 12, told reporters earlier this week that she was convinced she, too, would have died if not for Wright’s intervention. “I think she seen that bullet coming, grabbed me by the shoulders, and pushed me out of the way,” said Emma, who was not wounded. Wright died Tuesday night after surgery at St. Bernard’s Regional Medical Center.

Sixth-grade teacher Wright was the mother of 2-year-old Zane and a firm disciplinarian in the classroom who also tried to make learning fun for her students.

“The kids loved her,” said fellow teacher Barry Jones, who knew Wright since kindergarten. “The kids were talking the other day about how much fun they had in her class, how she was not just a teacher who read things out of a book. She made interesting activities for them. She told a lot of jokes, and when she got on them about something, she was never mean.”

Jones, who was a pallbearer at Wright’s funeral, recalled the last time he saw her Tuesday morning, shortly before the shooting began, and Westside Middle School changed forever.

“My classroom is just down the hall from hers, and we were standing in the doorway between bells,” he said. “She was not real tall, and the kids were all around her, and she looked at me and laughed, ‘I kind of get mixed up in all these kids.’ Then I left to go to the high school, and that was it.”


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