WESTSIDE TRAGEDY: A look into the investigation

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 3:21 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - For law enforcement each day is different. They go into every shift never knowing what they will encounter once they put on their uniform and badge.

On a Tuesday in March of 1998 the law enforcement community in northeast Arkansas banded together for an investigation they never imagined.

They walked into chaos that changed the trajectory of their careers.

Sheriff Marty Boyd was a deputy at the time making his normal rounds. Chief Rick Elliott was a criminal investigator.

“Well, first it was what kind of sorry SOB would do anything like this, not even thinking it could be kids,” said Elliot when asked his reaction after being notified of the shooting.

The calls continued for several minutes.

Dispatch audio
Dispatch audio(KAIT)

“To be truthful, the first call that came in about it was, well, I’m going to find the kid that made this prank call,” said Boyd.

Boyd was one of the first deputies to respond to the scene.

“Soon after that initial call, more information started coming in,” he said 25 years later. “Luckily, I was very close to Westside School when that call came in. So, I was able to be there in a matter of two minutes, I believe.”

Boyd arrived at the scene not knowing exactly what he was walking into.

Elliot said the memory is engrained in his mind all these years later.

“I just took off running down the hallway, down to the parking lot,” he said. “Got in my police car, got my vest put on, got my rifle out got in the car and started driving as quickly as I could out to west side school.”

Both men took the drive down the two-lane road learning more with each passing mile.

As soon as they arrived at the scene, the investigation started.

“Photographing and videoing the crime scene. I had begun drawing out the crime scene,” Elliot said. “We spent the next several hours processing evidence out at that crime scene until dark.”

The sheriff’s department called in JPD and Arkansas State Police to assist.

“[My] role was just basically trying to secure the scene from the suspects and make sure no more harm was going to take place after what had already initially happened,” said Boyd.

At the time, active shooter incidents were rare, especially for this area.

“The terminology that we use now for active shooter and training for scenarios like that, it was unheard of at the time. Just didn’t occur,” said Boyd.

Training for this was nonexistent.

“Prior to Westside, there were some other school shootings that had taken place and talking among ourselves of things to look at and do and how we might respond to that kind of situation, and then next thing you know, that call came in and here we are,” said Elliot.

Investigators used what knowledge they had to process the scene.

Parents were arriving on the scene, as well as emergency crews and news stations.

They worked through many challenges to make sure people were able to get emergency care and get to a safe location, while making sure to gather evidence.

The process of gathering evidence went on into that Tuesday night and the following day.

“We had a case to prepare to go to court, so we needed to do what we needed to do to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We wanted to do everything right,” said Elliot. “We went through the scene like we would any other scene, just be as slow and methodical as we can, processing the scene and collecting all the evidence.”

Both shooters were ultimately charged and convicted in the murders of the four students and their teacher.

This incident and investigation sparked something in the careers of Boyd and Elliott.

“I am on the Commission for Safe Schools of Arkansas,” said Boyd. “I take great pride in being there and wanting to do the best I can to protect our school systems.”

“We amped up our training, we added more breaching tools to the shift squads, so we have tools to break in doors,” said Elliot.

March 24, 1998, is a date they will never forget, but a day they will continue to try to prevent from happening again with training and knowledge.

“We don’t ever take it lightly,” said Elliot. “We take everything serious.”