When she headed off to school Tuesday morning, March 24, 1998, sixth-grader Emma Pittman had no idea of the horror that awaited her, her classmates and teachers.
When a school fire alarm was set off early in the afternoon, Emma, along with the other students and teachers at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, calmly filed outside. In orderly fashion they spilled into the schoolyard for what was assumed to be a routine fire drill.
Suddenly loud popping sounds were heard. Students and teachers were met with a horrific, premeditated spray of gunfire coming from the woods nearby. Two Westside students, boys aged 13 & 11, had staged an ambush that wounded ten. Four girls and one teacher died. The tragic incident stunned the city of Jonesboro. Shockwaves of disbelief were felt throughout the nation as the victims’ families, friends and communities grieved and tried to figure out why this happened.
Shannon Wright’s childhood dream was to be a teacher. She was busy living her dream teaching English at Westside, the very school she had attended. Mrs. Wright loved kids. Several years back as a first-year teacher she made a valiant effort to turn around a little boy reported to be a big troublemaker. She was determined to give him a fresh start. Her efforts paid off. The boy, though at the time was in high school, still dropped by to visit his favorite teacher.
Two of her other students did not respond well to her care and expertise. They were now dressed in camouflage, blazing away at their peers and teachers with a deadly variety of high-powered firearms. Screaming and bleeding children were falling to the ground. Emma Pittman was about to be the next casualty. One young witness later said of one of the boys, “He was fixing to shoot her and Mrs. Wright moved out in front of her.” “She got shot, said 11-year-old Amber Vanoven, “I sat and watched her.” “She grabbed and pushed me out of the way, “Emma said. “She got hit and fell. She shoved me out of the way. Mrs. Wright saved my life.”
Thirty-two year old Shannon Wright, a wife, mother and teacher, was critically wounded. She died a short time later at a nearby hospital of wounds in her stomach and chest. At Shannon’s funeral, two of her students expressed the sentiments deeply felt by many: “Mrs. Wright was not only a teacher. She was our friend.”
Over 2,000 years ago another young dedicated Teacher was busy living His dream. He had come to love us, instruct us, change us and give us all the opportunity for a fresh start. Many of those He taught and touched were wonderfully transformed. Others hardened their hearts and persisted in their evil ways despite all the truth and love He brought to them.
The crime scene on planet earth was appalling. Satan had been engaging in his cruel and horrible assaults against mankind. Dressed in the camouflage of his lies, he continued his relentless shooting spree. Luring men and women, boys and girls into his line of fire, he systematically gunned down multitudes with vicious volleys of deception, sin and death.
However, just in time, in the midst of the carnage, the great Teacher willingly stepped into the line of fire. He had declared, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself (John 10:11, 18a).”
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”
On a cruel cross at a place called Calvary, Satan’s screaming bullets ripped through His hands, His feet and His side. Jesus Christ the righteous Teacher suffered and died the horrible death we deserved to die because of our unrighteousness, iniquity and sin. “For he hath mad him to be sin for us, who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (II Corinthians 5:21).” He took the place of sinners to face the wrath of God due their sin. His blood flowed out freely because of His great love for us. He gave His life so we might live.
Since then, millions have come to Christ. The have been enabled to walk away alive and free from the destructive domination of sin, and the dreadful sting of eternal death. He is much more than our loving Teacher. He is our Savior and friend forever. Today, Jesus Christ lives in the hearts of multitudes of grateful children, His students, His disciples. Was His sacrifice worthwhile? Ask any of His “students.” They’ll tell you, “Jesus Christ saved me from death and gave me life!”
Today, Shannon Wright lives on in the hearts of her husband, son, family, friends, students, community and nation. But she may have no more special place on earth than in the heart of her student, now a young woman, Emma Pittman. Was a devoted middle school English teacher’s heroic sacrifice worthwhile? Mrs. Wright obviously thought so.
Also, you could ask Emma.