Gun request puts Ark. school shooter in spotlight

Friday, December 12, 2008

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Writer



After serving nearly a decade in custody for opening fire at a Jonesboro middle school in a 1998 sniper attack that killed four students and a teacher, Andrew Golden was released last year at age 21 and tried to start a new life.

While co-defendant Mitchell Johnson found himself in trouble with police within 6 months of his release, Golden went to Cape Girardeau, Mo., registering for a driver's license and adopting a new name. He caught the attention of police only once, after losing control of a motorcycle along a rural road in northern Arkansas this spring. But by then, he was Drew Douglas Grant, a student at a Batesville community college.

Then he applied for a state concealed weapons permit. Police revealed this week that he was denied.

"It just doesn't sit real good," said Craighead County Sheriff Jack McCann, who investigated the school shooting a decade ago and knew Golden's family long before it. "He hasn't been in any trouble since he got out and hopefully he won't be. But still, he shouldn't be allowed to carry a firearm."

Golden applied for the permit Oct. 7, noting the seven hours of training he had taken on handgun fundamentals, ammunition, self-defense and the law, and target shooting on a firing range.

But during the background check, regulators with the Arkansas State Police matched the fingerprints he provided to those taken after his arrest for the March 24, 1998, shooting at Jonesboro Westside Middle School. State police spokesman Bill Sadler said investigators also noted that Golden left off an address he gave a deputy investigating his motorcycle crash, as well as a federal prison where he served time.

Golden listed a home address in Evening Shade, a town of about 500 people 55 miles west of Jonesboro. Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver, whose deputies help patrol the small community, offered state police a letter objecting to Golden receiving a concealed weapons permit.

"I felt (that) somebody who had been involved in something of that magnitude, even if he was 11 years old, would have left some kind of emotional problems," Weaver said.

However, in the time since the shooting, Weaver said he's not aware of his deputies ever running into Golden while on patrol. Even if they did, Weaver said it was likely his deputies would have never remembered, as Golden now lives under a new name.

"If you saw a picture of him when he was a kid and one now, I don't know even if you were a relative and lived here at that time if you would have known him with the beard and so forth," the sheriff said.

In 1998, Golden pulled a fire alarm at the middle school, drawing students and teachers into a hail of gunfire. Golden and Johnson killed English teacher Shannon Wright and students Natalie Brooks, 11; Paige Herring, 12; Stephanie Johnson, 12; and Britthney Varner, 11. They wounded 10 others.

Both Golden and Johnson are named in a civil suit filed on behalf of the victims' relatives to stop the two from profiting from the slayings. During a hearing last month over a deposition Golden is to give in the civil suit, his mother, Pat Golden, acknowledged her son took a new name after his release from prison. She also said he lives alone and attends school but did not offer any other personal details.

A Drew Douglas Grant attends the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville as a business services major in his third semester, said Tina Paul, a school spokeswoman. She declined to offer a birth date for the student.

A telephone number on Golden's concealed weapon permit application was disconnected Thursday and a number in Evening Shade for him could not be found. Danny Glover, a Wynne lawyer representing Golden in the civil suit, did not return messages seeking comment.

Sadler said Golden has 10 days to appeal the rejection after he receives the denial letter. He said police investigators were examining whether criminal charges were warranted over the accuracy of the rejected application.

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