Warnings Signs Preceded Rampage
May. 22, 1998
SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) _ So what if Kip Kinkel liked stuffing firecrackers down gopher holes? Boys will be boys. Toilet-papering a house? Kid stuff. Shooting at bottles and squirrels in the woods? Just passing time, friends and neighbors figured.
As for making pipe bombs and setting off firecrackers in cats' mouths? Not to worry. Probably just a phase.
You see, 15-year-old Kip was from a good family, on the right side of town. The high school freshman lived in a big, beautiful house. He hung out with the preppies at school, played football, listened to Nirvana, played the guitar. He was a joker, a boaster.
So when he told his friend, Destry Saul, that he wanted to put a bomb under the bleachers at a pep rally and block the doorway so students couldn't get out, Destry didn't take him seriously.
Destry blew off the next threat, too.
``If I ever get really mad, I'd go and hit the cafeteria with my .22,'' Kip was said to have told Destry. ``I have lots more rounds for my .22 than my 9 and I'll save one for myself.''
``Sure,'' Destry said. ``Whatever.''
Ony Thursday morning, just before classes began, Kip allegedly strode into the Thurston High cafeteria, pulled a .22-caliber rifle from beneath his tan trench coat and opened fire. Two classmates were killed; 17 more were wounded. His parents were later found shot to death in their home.
The warning signs seem so obvious now, just as they did after recent school shootings in Arkansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi.
Kip's parents weren't blind to his problems. They had him taking Prozac and sent him to anger management counseling sessions, friends of Kip's said. Around school, though, no one it seems took Kip seriously until Thursday.
``Teachers considered him an average, everyday kid,'' Springfield Schools Superintendent Jamon Kent said Friday. ``If we detained every student who said I'm going to kill someone, we would have a large number of students detained.''
As a young boy, Kip seemed to have it made. His parents were both popular Spanish teachers who often took Kip and his older sister hiking and camping. Bill Kinkel was a member of the tennis club. His wife, Faith, volunteered with a group that enlists America's privileged youth to help poor children in Brazil.
``This was a trustworthy, middle-class, high-family values kind of family,'' said Dr. Dennis Ellison, 57, a urologist who lives a few houses away in the woodsy, secluded neighborhood. ``We watched Kip grow up. This was not a weird kid. This was a trustworthy, Boy Scout-type of kid.''
And Thurston High is considered the good school in Springfield, on the richer side of town. Parents are involved with their kids. They go to sports events, and practices, too.
``We thought we were doing everything right,'' said Deborah Lares, a mother of two teen-age boys.
Among his schoolmates, Kip seemed to be just one more kid with an attitude.
He boasted about his butterfly knife; about wanting to get a hook knife, held easily in the fist so you can punch and gouge your enemy at the same time.
``He was more violence-oriented than most, but he had a good heart,'' said Mikell Young, 15. ``He wanted to go into the Army so he'd know what it was like to kill somebody. But I never thought he'd do something like this.''
Neither did his friend, Mike Joseph. But he was worried that Kip seemed angry a lot. And one day he asked Kip why he was poring over a knife catalog.
``He said, `When I snap, I want the firepower to kill people,''' Mike recalled. ``I didn't think nothing of it. I didn't think he'd do it at this age. I figured it would be older.''
Despite his parents' efforts, Kip seemed to be getting into more trouble. He threw rocks at cars from an overpass. He toilet-papered a house with friends. His parents stepped in and took away his guns as punishment.
On Wednesday, he showed up at study hall.
How you doing? his friend Mikell Young asked.
``I'm a little mad,'' Kip said. ``My parents took away my guns.''
A few minutes later, a security guard came in and accused him of trying to buy a stolen gun from a friend on campus. He was arrested and booked, then released into his parents' custody.
The next morning, police say, Kip let loose with 51 rounds of ammunition in the cafeteria.
It's a copycat thing, said Clovis Alexander, a 21-year-old hanging out at Thurston High. ``You watch a cooking show and learn how to cook. You watch the news and learn how to kill,'' he said.
Others blamed movies such as ``The Basketball Diaries,'' in which a boy dreams of opening fire on his classroom.
How to tell the difference between a teen going through the usual turmoil of adolescence and a child with serious problems?
``I don't know,'' said Ellison, Kip's neighbor. ``That scares me. If Kip Kinkel could do this, anybody could.''