On May 20, 1998, Kip Kinkel, a 15-year-old high school student, murdered his parents, Bill and Faith Kinkel, in their house. Then, the next day, he killed two students and injured 25 others in a school shooting at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. The murdered students were Ben Walker, age 16, and Mikael Nickolauson, age 17.
Kinkel’s parents were found in their house the day after the murder. Also in the house was a confession written by Kinkel, explaining that voices in his head made him kill. He expressed regret for what he had done, but also said that he needed to kill people. The prosecutors argued that Kinkel was rational after killing his parents, as there was the next day’s newspaper on the table, a freshly used bowl, evidence that Kinkel had cleaned blood from the house, and proof that he had talked to his friends on the phone. Also found was a journal that confessed the youth’s thoughts of killing others and uncontrollable rage, and weapons including knives, chemicals, books on explosives, and “a sawed-off shotgun and a handgun.” Police also found a picture of the football team with one player’s head circled and the word “kill” next to it.
Some believe that Kinkel’s early school years were a precursor to what happened later, as there were signs of frustration and trouble in school at an early age. During Kinkel’s first year in school, he and his family were living in Spain, and his teacher spoke only Spanish. His sister Kristin has said that this situation was very difficult for Kip, who then had to be held back a grade when the family returned to the United States. He became very frustrated when he had trouble in school. Kinkel was tested for a learning disability in second grade, but was not diagnosed until third grade when he was retested.
In middle school, Kinkel and his friends started looking up how to make bombs on the Internet. His mother found out and became worried about the kind of friends he had. Kinkel also started shoplifting and bought a sawed-off shotgun from one of his friends in eighth grade, which his parents were unaware of. He was also arrested with a friend that year for throwing rocks from an overpass and hitting a car below. Kinkel was charged with this act and put under the control of the Eugene, Oregon, Department of Youth Services.
After these incidents, Kip’s mother Faith put him in therapy with Dr. Jeffery Hicks, who later testified in court after the school shooting. Faith was concerned about Kip’s behavior, about his aggression, and about his relationship with his father. During this time, Kinkel also went to Skipworth Juvenile Facility as a result of the rock-throwing arrest. The psychologist there felt the boy was different from most juveniles who came there, in that he was truthful and remorseful about what he had done. Dr. Hicks felt Kinkel was improving over time with their therapy, although he realized his patient was still interested in bombs and was continually depressed.
Around the same time, Kinkel was suspended for two days in school when he kicked another boy in the head after the boy pushed him. Later, he was suspended again for three days after he threw a pencil at a student. Faith Kinkel and Dr. Hicks felt the school had over-reacted with its punishments. Dr. Hicks ended up putting Kip on Prozac, which seemed to help. That same month, Kip’s father bought a 9-mm gun for his son, with an agreement that Kip would not use the weapon without his father being there, and that Kip could not have full possession of it until turning 21 years old. Kip and his parents seemed to be getting along better at this time, and his father was making more of an effort to be with him. His ninth counseling session was his last, after all agreed he was doing well enough to stop going.
Soon after that, Kinkel bought another gun from a friend without his parents’ knowledge, a .22-caliber pistol. The same year, he started high school at Thurston High. Kinkel seemed to be doing much better at school and in the rest of his life at this time. After just three months, he went off the Prozac after starting high school. His father bought him another gun, a semi-automatic rifle, with the same conditions as had applied to the other weapon. In speech class in school, Kip gave his speech on making a bomb, including detailed pictures on the process. Students later reported that this did not seem strange, as other students had discussed out-of-the-ordinary topics as well, including one on joining the Church of Satan. Soon after these events, the Pearl, Mississippi; West Paducah, Kentucky; and Jonesboro, Arkansas, school shootings all occurred. Kip’s friend commented that Kinkel had said the Jonesboro shooting was cool, after seeing TV clips of it.
On May 20, 1998, Kinkel bought a semi-automatic pistol from a friend, which was stolen from another friend’s father. It is not known whether Kinkel was aware of the gun’s origin. The same day, the owner of the gun, Scott Keeney, called the school to tell officials there that the gun had been stolen and that he thought a student might have it. A detective was at the school on an unrelated matter, and talked to Kinkel about the gun. Kinkel confessed that he had it, and he and Korey Ewert, who had stolen the gun, were arrested and suspended from school.
Kinkel went home with his father Bill that same day. According to people who talked to Bill on the phone that day, Bill was very upset and unsure of how to handle his son. Right after Bill talked to Scott Keeney at 3 p.m., Kip shot his father in the back of the head with his rifle. He put his father’s body in the bathroom and placed a sheet over it. At about 3:30 p.m., Kinkel’s English teacher, Mr. Rowan, called the house. Kinkel spoke to him and told him he had made a mistake, although he did not say what, and he said his father was not there. At about 4 P.M., his friend called and asked where his father was; Kinkel told his friend that his father had gone to a store. At about 4:30 p.m., students from Bill’s community college class called wondering why he was missing class. Kinkel told them he was not going to make it because of family issues. Right after that, he talked to his friends Tony McCown and Nick Hiaason in a conference call. Kinkel said in the call that he had not known the gun was Mr. Keeney’s, that his father was at a bar, and that he was worried what others would think about what had happened at school that day. Tony and Nick said Kip kept saying he felt sick, that he was upset and angry, and he kept wondering when his mother would be home.
When his mother did come home at about 6:30 p.m., Kip joined her in the garage. After telling her he loved her, he shot her six times in the head, face, and chest. Then he covered her with a sheet, as he had his father.
On the next day (May 21, 1998,) even though he was suspended, Kinkel went to school. He brought with him three guns and a knife. He shot Ben Walker and Ryan Atteberry, and then shot his guns randomly in the cafeteria. Five students forced him to the ground after he had killed two students and injured 25. When police arrived, Kinkel told them he wanted to die. Kinkel then attacked Detective Al Warthen, the same detective who had arrested him the previous day, with the hunting knife he had strapped to his leg, shouting that he wanted them to kill him. When he calmed down, Kinkel confessed that he had killed his parents. The officers discovered Kinkel had two bullets taped to his chest, which he explained were meant to kill himself.
Kinkel was indicted with four counts of aggravated murder, for the two students and his parents, and 26 counts of aggravated attempted murder, which included the police detective he assaulted after the school shooting. During his trial, 50 victims of the shooting and their relatives gave statements, all saying they wanted Kinkel to have the maximum punishment available. On November 9, 1999, after six days in court, Kinkel was sentenced to 111 years in prison without the possibility of parole. The judge explained that the Oregon State Constitution had changed in 1996 to place the safety of society over the ability for one person to change, which is how he ruled. Kinkel is the first juvenile in the state of Oregon to serve a life sentence.
The defense tried to prove Kinkel was mentally ill, although they did not use an insanity defense, instead trying to obtain a plea bargain. More than one expert said Kinkel was mentally ill after he was in custody, diagnosing him with a learning disability, depression, low self-esteem, and early forms of schizophrenia. There was also a history of schizophrenia in Kinkel’s family. Dr. Hicks, the only one who had helped Kinkel before the murders, said the youth was not psychotic, but angry and depressed.
- Fast, J. (2008). Ceremonial violence: A psychological explanation of school shootings. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press.
- Flowers, R., & Flowers, H. (2004). Murders in the United States. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland.