Town Prepares To Bury Its Dead

Horror has given way to grief in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where the five victims of a deadly schoolyard ambush are to be buried Friday and Saturday.

Funerals are scheduled Friday morning for the youngest of the victims, Natalie Brooks, 11, and her classmate Paige Herring, 12. The two other 12-year-olds, Stephanie Johnson and Brittany Varner, will be laid to rest Saturday. English teacher Shannon Wright, shot as she stepped in front of a student, also will be buried Saturday.

In Africa, President Clinton moved from international relations to discuss the shooting, allegedly done by two middle-school boys, at a joint news conference with South African President Nelson Mandela.

Calling it a "terrible tragedy'' and a "horrible shooting incident'' that has drawn attention to the issue of school violence'' Mr. Clinton said he had called the Arkansas governor, the Jonesboro mayor and the principal of Westside Middle School.

The president expressed hope that "All of us, including the federal authorities and the press corps, will give the people in Jonesboro the chance to grieve and bury those who have died.''

The mourning began Thursday night as hundreds of friends and classmates filed by the caskets of the victims. At a wake for Paige Herring, the viewing line went out the door of the funeral home and into the parking lot. Many of the mourners wore white satin ribbons.

Next to the casket were two photographs from Paige's volleyball and basketball teams. What appeared to be an orange sports jersey was draped over the front of the casket. Photographs of Paige lined the inside of the casket lid.

At a separate wake, the body of 12-year-old Natalie Brooks rested in a closed casket. Photos of Natalie at different ages sat to the right of her casket. One showed a toddler dressed in a white bunny costume; she wore a pink formal dress in a more recent photograph. Flowers filled the chapel as young mourners hugged and cried and said goodbye to a friend.

While the town mourned their loss, the father of one of the suspects, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson, said his son was sorry and was not a monster."

In television interviews Scott Johnson said the boy was "remorseful when he met with him on Wednesday.

Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden were accused of luring students out of Westside Middle School with a false fire alarm, then gunning them down in a hail of bullets fired from a small arsenal of rifles and pistols -- all because Johnson had been jilted by a girl, classmates said.

Police found weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a van the boys apparently intended to use as a get-away car. News reports said investigators believed the boys, now being held without bond in Craighead County jail pending an April 29 hearing, planned to un away after the attack.

Ten people were wounded in the shooting spree that left the school pockmarked with bullet holes. Five of the injured remained in the hospital as of Thursday, but doctors said they were improving and none was left on the critical list.

Westside students returned to classes on Thursday, where they spent the day with counselors and making cards for the shooting victims. Outdoor activities were restricted and the fire alarms had been disconnected.

The attack again underscored the easy availability of guns in the United States and led to a hue and cry for new laws by gun control advocates.

But people in Jonesboro, a place known for its love of hunting, seemed not to go along with the advocates.

"The right to bear arms is taken seriously around here. A lot of people think the government has intruded too much already,'' said Marvin Buerkle, the editor of a small weekly newsletter.

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