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Family remembers shooting at Westside Middle School 25 years later



Little Rock, Arkansas – On Friday, it will be 25 years since two other students at Craighead County’s Westside Middle School shot and killed a bunch of middle school girls, along with their teacher.

On March 24, 1998, a shooting took place, leaving six people dead: sixth-grade teacher Shannon Wright, Natalie Brooks, 11, Paige Ann Herring, 12, Stephanie Johnson, 12, and 11-year-old Britthney Varner. In addition to the teacher, nine other students also sustained injuries.

According to investigators, Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, were detained until they were 21 after being found guilty of the shooting.

After being found guilty in 2008, Johnson later received a sentence of 12 years in federal prison, with an additional four years added for drug and gun charges. Golden later passed away in a car accident in 2019.

Britthney was described as being little but mighty by the Varner family. Brandi Varner, her sister, recalled attending the local high school on the day of the shooting when she was 13 years old.

“It was just mass hysteria.” Varner said in her class, “Nobody really gave a shooting any kind of thought.”

Varner claimed that although they learned about the shooting’s nature an hour later, she had never anticipated her sister’s demise.

“I’m sitting here going, ‘she is going to tell me what happened when we got home’ and the reality now was that she wasn’t coming home.”

Varner recalled the confusion of attempting to go to the hospital with her family to check on Britthney’s condition. When they arrived, she claimed the doctor informed her family that Brittney had passed away.

“He (the doctor) said as soon as we got her here, we put her in surgery but there was really nothing we could do for her, we couldn’t save her.” Varner adds, “My mom broke down right away and I remember feeling like I was being suffocated with this.”

Varner claimed that it took her about 15 years to begin accepting her sister’s death. She was pleased to discover that a memorial had been erected at Westside Middle School for those who had died.

“I think that it is necessary there, especially moving forward and I think it’s an important story to tell,” Varner stated.

Varner claimed that she committed her life to helping young people learn and to coaching volleyball since she claimed that the sport had also helped her cope with bereavement.

“I wanted to instill this love into girls that obviously will never go through what I went through, but something if they felt like they didn’t have any outlet or they didn’t have anywhere to turn this sport could help them,” Varner said.

Varner remarked that she thinks her spirit always directs her.

“It’s always nice to know that light still shines even 25 years later,” Varner said.

She complained that it bothered her that other school shootings continued to occur across America following the one at her sister’s school.

“All I do know is that nothing has changed because it always repeats itself over and over,” Varner stated.

Varner claimed that she now has four children of her own and makes an effort to give each one a hug and tell them that she loves them every day.

Don’t ever assume that it won’t happen here because that was exactly us 25 years ago, she added, and make sure your loved ones are aware of how much you care about them. That is the message she wishes everyone will take away from that horrible day.

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