JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — A parent-led booster club supporting an Arkansas school district that was the site of a 1998 shooting is drawing criticism for its plans to auction off an AR-15 rifle.
The fundraiser is to raise money so Westside High School’s band can go to Disney World for a performance, the booster club said. In 1998, four Westside students and one teacher were killed when two students, then ages 11 and 13, opened fire at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro. Both were released from juvenile facilities at 21. One shooter, Andrew Golden, later changed his name to Drew Grant and died in a car crash earlier this summer.
In 1999, Arkansas changed its law to allow prosecutors to charge juveniles under 14 as adults for capital murder and first-degree murder.
“I would hope that any school group or any school booster club in or around the Jonesboro area would be sensitive enough to what happened 20 years ago to not auction off a weapon to raise money,” said James Dunivan, who was Westside’s high school principal at the time of the shooting and is now superintendent of the nearby Nettleton School District.
Booster club president, Stacy Walz told The Jonesboro Sun that she understands the criticism but says the district is filled with gun enthusiasts who support the fundraiser. Other groups, including the school’s trap shooting team, have raffled off shotguns in the past.
“We were looking for things that were new and exciting,” she said. “You can only buy so much cookie dough, cheesecake and wrapping paper. We were looking to be unique in our offerings the best we could.”
The district’s superintendent, Scott Gauntt, said the auction is not a school-sponsored fundraiser.
“This is a parent group, and I have no control over that,” Gauntt said. “I have no control over these parents. They are an independent group with their own checking account.”
The AR-15 rifle has been used in several recent mass shootings, and many retailers have stopped selling the assault-style guns.