An 11-year-old and a 13-year-old boy were caught trying to run away shortly after the midday ambush at the Westside Middle School, police said. A third boy who allegedly pulled the fire alarm was being sought.
Police did not offer a motive, but a classmate said one of the suspects had recently broken up with his girlfriend.
"He told me after seventh period (Monday) that he was never going to see me again and I wouldn't be able to see him again because he was going to run away," said Jennifer Nightingale. She did not say if any of the victims was the former girlfriend.
Authorities said as many as 27 shots were fired. Youngsters ran screaming back inside the school as their classmates fell bleeding, then cried as they waited for emergency workers.
"Someone pulled the fire alarm inside and they went outside, and two people in camouflage clothing started shooting," said Connie Tolbert, a secretary.
"We thought it was just firecrackers," said one student, Brandy George. "I saw one of my teachers get shot. I started running towards the gym."
Said paramedic Charles Jones: "We had children lying everywhere. They had all been shot."
Sheriff Dale Haas cried as he recounted the shootings.
Authorities identified the dead students as Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring, Stephanie Johnson, all 12, and Brittany R. Varner, who was 11. Teacher Shannon Wright died after surgery for wounds to her chest and abdomen, Craighead County coroner Toby Emerson said.
Another teacher, Sara Thetford, was in critical condition after surgery. Five wounded girls were listed in stable condition. Three girls and one boy were treated and released.
The wounded students were between 11 to 13 years old. State police said a 12th person was wounded, but was not treated at the hospital. They did not have any more details.
The school has about 250 students in sixth and seventh grades. Jonesboro is a university town of 52,000 about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock.
The two boys, wearing camouflage shirts, pants and hats, were caught near the school with handguns and rifles. Officer Terry McNatt said they offered no resistance and said little. The boys, both students at the school, were being held at the county jail.
It was the third fatal shooting rampage in a school in the past five months.
On Dec. 1, a boy opened fire on a student prayer circle at a high school in West Paducah, Ky., killing three students and wounding five. A 14-year-old student, described as small and emotionally immature, was arrested.
Two months earlier, a 16-year-old outcast in Pearl, Miss., was accused of killing his mother, then ging to school and shooting nine students. Two of them died, including the boy's ex-girlfriend. Authorities later charged six friends with conspiracy, saying the suspects were part of a group that dabbled in satanism.
On Dec. 15, a sniper in the woods wounded two students outside a school in the southwestern Arkansas town of Stamps. A 14-year-old boy was arrested after a manhunt.
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