On May 21, 1998, parents of students at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon were horrified when they learned that a mass shooting had just taken place.
The perpetrator arrived at the school in the morning before classes armed with two hunting knives, a 9x19mm Glock 19 pistol, a .22LR Ruger 10/22 rifle, a .22LR Ruger MK II pistol, and 1,127 rounds of ammunition.
He arrived on the school’s campus and immediately fired two rounds, wounding one student and fatally wounding another. He made his way to the school’s cafeteria and entered through a side entrance. There, he jumped on a table and fired the remaining 48 rounds into the crowd of students.
When he began to reload, the perpetrator was tackled by an injured student. A pile-on began by students and he fired one more shot into the crowd from his Glock, injuring two more students.
“Kill me! Just kill me!” He yelled at the students. He was restrained until police finally arrived to witness all the carnage.
27 people had been shot. Two of them had been killed.
As the dust cleared and an investigation went underway, two more bodies had been discovered at the home of the perpetrator. When police entered the home, they discovered the bodies of the perpetrator’s parents.
“Liebestand” from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, was playing on repeat.
Many were quick to learn that this perpetrator was Kipland Kinkel, a troubled 15-year-old student at Thurston. He had just been suspended, pending an expulsion hearing, the day prior to the shooting.
So, what drove Kinkel to murder his parents in cold blood and then indiscriminately fire bullets into a crowd of his fellow students? A decent amount of students have been expelled from school before, but how many of them return to murder the innocent?
Like any person driven to killing, the story is complicated and long, yet there were warning signs all the way.
Kinkel was born in 1982 to Bill Kinkel and Faith Zuranski. He had an older sister of six years named Kristen. The family was a successful one, both parents were accomplished Spanish teachers and Kristen was a shining example of a hardworking, good kid.
Kinkel, however, struggled to keep up with his parents’ expectations. In 1989, he was forced to repeat the first grade, setting a precedent for years of struggle to come. It wasn’t until the fourth grade that Kinkel became diagnosed with dyslexia.
He worked hard to overcome his disability and made some improvements but soon fell into other trouble.
Kinkel soon began to hang around with a bad group of kids and was eventually caught shoplifting. He also began to collect guns and hide them from his parents. For years, Kinkel would be getting into trouble with other kids and the law.
Kinkel was then placed into therapy with psychologist Jeffrey Hicks. During their initial meeting, Dr. Hicks noted that “Kip became tearful when discussing his relationship with his father.” He reported that he thought that his mother saw him as “a good kid with bad habits” while his father saw him as “a bad kid with bad habits.”
Over the course of a couple of months, Kinkel made some improvements according to Dr. Hicks. He still felt that it was appropriate for Kinkel to be prescribed Prozac, taking 20mg a day. A little over two weeks later, Hicks reports that Kinkel seemed to be doing well under his new medication.
Less than a week after this counseling session, however, Kinkel got his first gun, a 9mm Glock. His father had bought it for him, with the promise to pay it off and some very strict rules about use. Kinkel’s obsession with firearms proved to be too much for his parents and they gave into the indulgence, hoping it would curb his interest later on.
On July 30, 1997, Dr. Hicks wrote that Kinkel’s improvement was such that he felt they no longer needed to continue treatment. That fall, Kinkel decided to go off his Prozac.
Almost a year later, Kinkel purchased another gun, a .32 caliber Beretta semi-automatic pistol, and brought it to school. Only an hour later, Kinkel was busted with the gun in his locker and he was escorted from school by police in handcuffs.
Later that day, Kinkel’s father picked him up from the police station and brought him home. At approximately 3:00 pm, while his father was drinking coffee, Kinkel grabbed his .22 rifle and fired one shot into the back of his father’s head. He covered his body in a sheet and waited for his mother to arrive home.
When she did, he told her he loved her, then shot her twice in the back of the head, three times in the face, and once through the heart.
The next day, Kinkel took his parents car to his school and began the shooting.
Kip Kinkel was charged with four counts of aggravated murder. He pled guilty to the four counts and 26 counts of attempted murder. During his six-day sentencing hearing, there were testimony from victims’ statements, his sister, and psychologists who have interviewed Kinkel.
The difficulty of mass shootings is their unpredictability. No one expects to be in one, and when you’re in one they happen so fast you wonder how you’ll survive. But for anyone who’s around someone who is troubled, the warning signs could be flashing right in your face and you’d still believe that it will never get to a point of violence.