Reaching the state Capitol, Huckabee called a news conference and immediately blasted the youth culture. "It makes me angry," he said. "It's in the television programs they watch, the movies they see, the language they use, the things they are exposed to and the glorification of those things."
The next day, he and his wife, wearing white ribbons on their lapels, met in Jonesboro for about 40 minutes with many of the victims' families. He spent more than an hour with teachers and staff. Huckabee, a Baptist minister, also went to the hospital and helped families begin to work through their grief.
"I remember him and his wife coming down the hall," said David Betts, whose niece, Ashley, was among the wounded. "They were the most compassionate people I've ever seen. It wasn't just a walk-in visit. He stayed with us. He supported us and prayed with us."
But Huckabee was not among the 9,000 people who attended a memorial service a week later at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center in Jonesboro. Aides said he was on a planned family vacation in the Caribbean. He did send a letter, quoting the Bible that man is saved by God and not the laws he enacts.
Herring and Wright were concerned that there was no law to prevent the shooters from profiting financially, since they were juveniles and would be released from prison when they turned 21. They said they told Huckabee they wanted assurances the killers could not write books or sell their stories to Hollywood, and that Huckabee looked them both in the eyes and said: "That would be blood money."
At a second meeting in Jonesboro, Wright said Huckabee again vowed it would be "blood money" for the shooters, with Huckabee adding this time: "No one should profit."
Then, ten days after the shooting, it was announced that Huckabee had signed his own book deal, to be written with George Grant, a prolific author of Christian books. The publisher was an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination in which Huckabee was ordained.
Officials at the publishing house declined to discuss the arrangements for the book, saying they comment only on current authors. Grant did not respond to requests for an interview.
Huckabee has insisted the idea came to him before the shootings. Asked by a newspaper reporter at the time if he was trying to turn a dollar by capitalizing on the Jonesboro deaths, Huckabee angrily responded: "No more than you're capitalizing on it when you write stories about Jonesboro and sell ads and sell the paper."
Dogged about why he declined to donate any of the book proceeds to the scholarship fund, Huckabee said he planned to use the money for his own children's college education. Later Huckabee stayed in his private office in the Capitol in an attempt to evade further questions. Then he rushed to his state car and slammed the door on reporters.
McDaniel, the Jonesboro lawyer, said such incidents didn't seem to hurt Huckabee. He noted that Huckabee had a knack for impressing voters and winning elections, "even if he does have a very short fuse and a temper."
Indeed, not only was he reelected in 1998, he carried Jonesboro, a state college town on the northern edge of the Mississippi Delta. To many in Arkansas, that feat speaks to his twin gifts as a natural politician and an inspiring religious leader.
McQuary, the former state Democratic chairman, said Huckabee was very charismatic and could uplift people in a state that has struggled with poverty: "Surprisingly, he was quite popular, especially in such a Democratic-majority state. Do not underestimate him on the campaign trail."