Westside Survivors Gather Journals

Flowers on marker at Westside Middle School Memorial Garden

by Seth Cleveland
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — For one group of people in Jonesboro, the past 20 years remains a time of healing from wounds that never seem to close.

Valerie Grass

Valerie Grass (photo by Seth Cleveland)

By all accounts, March 24, 1998 began as a pretty average day. The students of Westside Middle School started fifth period. The teachers began the lesson. Then two middle-school students pulled the fire alarm, went up on a hill and began shooting, killing four students and a teacher, and wounding 10 more.

“No time for questions. It was just run and take cover,” said Valerie Grass, a student at Westside at the time of the shooting.

Brandy Myatt said she remembers hearing, “Don’t walk, run!” on that day.

“We just took off helter-skelter, and right as soon as we got to the gym, I noticed my friend holding her arm,” she said.

Brandy Myatt

Brandy Myatt (photo by Seth Cleveland)

Myatt started piecing together what happened. And, she said, things began to change. From there began a long and arduous healing process.

That’s the truth for many people who have experienced similar events. Those who have experienced these atrocities must learn to move on.

The Westside survivors want to aid in the healing process of other survivors.

“We usually try to offer something to say, ‘You’re not alone in this,'” Myatt said.

After every school shooting since 1998, the Westside survivors have gotten together and figured out a way to help. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, the Westside survivors sent the children stuffed animals like they received. In other cases, the Westside survivors have gone to school to talk to the students.

For many of the Westside shooting survivors, Parkland felt different. The similarities between the shootings, the approaching 20-year anniversary and the helplessness — it all opened the wounds of the past.

“This most recent shooting has just flooded so many memories back,” Grass said.

Others in the group agreed.

“As soon as we heard about Parkland, we all got on our Facebook group … and the first thing that I asked is ‘What are we going to do?'” Myatt said.

Brandy Myatt's journal

Myatt’s journal (click photo to enlarge)

Their idea stemmed from something the survivors did after the shooting.

Ferncliff, a camp in Little Rock, offered the survivors a getaway from the media coverage the summer after the shooting. The survivors learned journaling as a way to cope.

“From that came a lot of healing,” Grass said. “When we got there they had a starter backpack with a flashlight, a journal and a teddy bear.”

Jennifer Roshto, a Westside survivor, appreciated the journals.

Jennifer Roshto

Jennifer Roshto (photo by Seth Cleveland)

“It gave me a place to say all these things and put all these things down, without having somebody tell me, ‘Well, you need to get over it,'” she said.

The Westside survivors want to gather 3,400 journals to send to Parkland survivors so that every high school student can have one.

“We’ve had several donations already, but I still feel that we’re very shy of what we need,” Roshto said.

Northeast Arkansas residents can donate until April 1 at several Journal Donation Locations around Jonesboro.

They also offer up their advice. “Take it day by day,” Myatt said.

Journal Donation Locations
Target Monday – Friday, 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Brandy Myatt
VA Clinic Monday – Friday, 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Lindsay Kifer
Hytrol Monday – Friday, 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Jessica Odom
Westside Middle School
Pocahontas Schools
Highland Schools
Bono City Hall
Lost Pizza Company