Arkansas school shooter restarted his life after prison in Cape Girardeau

Thursday, December 11, 2008

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Andrew Golden, who sat silently as a juvenile judge sentenced him into state custody for the deaths of four students and a teacher in a 1998 Jonesboro middle school shooting, disappeared just as quietly after a federal prison released him at age 21.

While co-defendant Mitchell Johnson found himself in trouble with police within a year a half of his release, Golden went to Cape Girardeau, registering for a driver’s license and beginning a new life. He caught the attention of police only once, after losing control of a motorcycle along a rural two-lane state highway 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.

"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. A training instructor wrote that Golden passed the classes and deemed him "successfully and safely qualified" to use a semiautomatic pistol.

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 another.

The form requires applicants to list all the addresses they’ve lived at in the last two years. Golden lists Ravenden, the small town where his father runs the local post office, as his home from April 2002 to May 2006. However, during that period just before his 18th birthday, a judge sent Golden to a federal prison on an undisclosed weapons violation.

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, 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 now lives alone and attends a 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. Paul declined to offer a birth date for the student.

A telephone number on Golden’s concealed weapon permit 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 for comment.

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

In the time since Golden’s release, McCann said he’s spoken only once to Golden’s father, as process servers tried to find his son over the civil suit. McCann acknowledged many still bear hatred for Golden over the shooting, but said he knew of no threats against him.

Still, McCann remains leery of the idea of Golden picking up a firearm.

"It’s just hard to get over that he could have a concealed carry permit," the sheriff said. "I’m sure it’s legal, but I don’t think it’s right."

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