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~ Kathy M.

Monday, February 27, 2012

School Shootings: The Thurston Shootings Revisited

Source:  The Prevention Researcher Blog

Yesterday, for some reason, I was thinking about The Thurston Shootings which occurred in Springfield, Oregon in 1998.  A boy named Kip Kinkel was the one who did the killing.  It was the first large scale school shooting, as far as I know, though the media seems to have forgotten about it now.  It is probably just as well.  Anyway, I was wondering if I should ever write about that incident on my blog.  Then this morning, I woke up to the news that there was a very similar school shooting in Ohio that had just happened, and at least three children have now died.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families.  As parents, we do not send our kids to school to be shot and it is so unexpected and shocking when something like this happens.

Believe it or not, this post is not about beating up on Kip Kinkel or even about gun control.  His brain scans showed a terrible case of schizophrenia, and in the end, he pleaded guilty and apologized for his behavior, not wanting to put his classmates through an awful and emotional trial.  He will never be out of prison, and I have no interest in causing his sister anymore pain than she has already had to go through.  It might be a good post about mental illness becoming dangerous, but frankly I have just never written about that day before now, and today I feel like it.  It is hard to not use names, but not everybody would appreciate being easily identified, so I am going to try my best to be careful.

Early in the morning on May 21, 1998, Kip Kinkel walked down the breezeway past my youngest daughter, heavily armed with weapons hidden under his long coat.  He was heading toward the cafeteria.  She had known him for years, ever since elementary school, and Kip was in one of her classes that term.  They were both in 10th grade.  She did not even recognize him that morning; she said that she just looked at him and thought who is that weird guy in the trenchcoat?  Somebody later commented that you must look different after you kill your parents and have a big plan in mind to shoot many more. 

Kip Kinkel ended up killing two students and shooting 22 that morning, before he was tackled to the ground by two brothers; Eagle Scouts.  The one boy said, "You son of a bitch, you just shot me!" and they reacted promptly.  Thank God that they did.  Thank God that the teacher this morning tackled today's shooter in Ohio. (I never did appreciate the horrible way that Columbine was handled.  It was as if the people inside didn't get much help from anybody.  Columbine always seemed more like a terrorist attack to me.)

My oldest daughter was in the gym when the shooting began.  She and her best friend were going to go to the cafeteria, but they hadn't left for it yet.  Another reason to thank God.  Instead, they were locked inside the gym with others as they heard the gunshots and pandemonium nearby.  One girl had a cell phone, but the teacher wouldn't let her use it or share it.  That was back before everybody had cell phones and before text messaging was widely used. 

After her near-miss, my youngest daughter was waiting for her best friend to arrive at school and park in the parking lot.  She heard the shots begin, and a teacher told her to come inside a nearby classroom.  She said forget that, I'm out of here, and ran to her friend's pick-up, hopped in and they drove back to her friend's house.  She called me and said "Mom!  Have you heard from K.?"  I said, no, why, and she said that somebody was shooting people at school.  And that was the beginning of one of the most horrific days of our lives.  I turned on the radio for news, and the phone calls started pouring into our home from concerned family and friends. 

We lived on Deerhorn Road, in an old farm house at Camp Christian at the time.  The Kinkels lived in a sub-division several miles up the road.  I operated a home daycare, and am certain that Kip drove right past my son and my daycare kids that morning as they were waiting for the bus at the bottom of our driveway.  Another scary thought.  My stepson was still in middle school, and though he usually was on the same bus as Kip, Kip didn't take the bus that day because he was driving his Mom's car to school.

My friend Glenda called me right away from Eugene.  Our friend Marlene was good friends with the McKenzie River fire chief's wife, and had gotten word that this was a really big, bad deal.  Marlene knew that my girls went to Thurston and she called Glenda, who called me minutes after Kristin did. Glenda came over to help me with my daycare kids and to free me up.  During that period of time, Glenda and I had been through several disasters together, and were a good team.  I will always appreciate her friendship.

After my kids and their friends were accounted for, the details just kept pouring in.  Kip had killed his parents the night before.  There was something about bombs in their house and yard.  When he was in his jail cell, he pulled a knife on our friend's husband (a cop).  Not quite sure how he got the knife past everybody, but he did.  He was like the Everready Battery kid; he just kept on going and going and going.  Apparently, as it all came out later, some kids knew that he was harming animals and going down a deep dark hole, but they didn't want to tell on him.  There was a warning floating around that kids who went to Walterville School with Kip were supposed to avoid the pep assembly that day.

I could go into more details, but I won't.  A couple of days later it was Memorial Day Weekend, and we went to La Pine to the cabin as we had already planned to do.  I am so glad that we got a break from it all. Some families no longer had that choice to take a break, and are forever haunted about what happened that day.  It was heartbreaking to drive by the front of the school and see the memorial that had sprung up ... flowers, stuffed animals, letters.  I found the picture above of the memorial on a blog called The Prevention Researcher Blog and it has the story of a young woman who was there. 

The community came together; there were heroes all over the place, big and small, young and old.  Kids helping their wounded friends in the cafeteria, being brave under pressure.

I just want to add that Mr. and Mrs. Kinkel were well-loved people, both were teachers and wonderful parents who had a very troubled kid.  They were doing all they could to get him help, and he was in counseling.  Nobody knew the depth of his troubles or dreamed that something like this could happen.  They ended up paying with their own lives.

Right away people who knew nothing were calling into the radio programs blaming them, saying that they had a horrible family, etc.  That is already happening this morning in Ohio.  Maybe this kid does have a bad family and maybe he doesn't, but are those kinds of comments accurate and are they helpful to the situation or harmful? 

I just hope that there will be no copycat incidences following today's tragedy.  There is a lot of information on this subject on the internet, but I wanted to throw in my memories into the hat too.

The ironic thing about The Thurston Shooting was that there was a huge soccer tournament already scheduled to be held at Thurston's field for the coming weekend and the t-shirts were already made, saying something like "The Thurston Shoot-Out 1998". 

~ Kathy Matthews 

Here is a link that contains a timeline of what led up to the school shootings:  Frontline: Kip Kinkle

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Grammy Goodwill said...

Oh, my. I'm so glad your children were safe that day. As a retired teacher, I've always hoped I would know what to do in a situation like this to protect my students. I thank God that I never had to find out. My prayers are with all of those involved in today's shooting.

Arkansas Patti said...

Nothing stuns us more than a school shooting. It is so far beyond our comprehension.
Thank God your daughter was all right and how horrible for the parents who can't say that.
I recently read Reunion which is about the 20 year reunion of the survivors of a school shooting. It is fiction and dives off into the paranormal but the insite was quite good.
Well written post Kathy and thanks for sharing such a terrifying moment.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Thank you, Grammy. I am so glad that your school never experienced a shooting, but I know that you would have kept your wits about you if it would have happened. In our case, so many things could have turned out differently; but they didn't and I am so very thankful though still so sorry for the other kids and families.

Patti, thank you so much. This was not so hard to write, but kind of hard to post. I know it isn't a post that will get many comments, and it isn't a post for entertainment. It is one of those posts that somebody who has never read my blog will be Googling the topic someday and find it, and maybe it will be of some help somehow. No matter how bad things are at the time, life does go on for survivors. People are resilient, they can heal and be happy over time.

I do appreciate you saying that it is well written though!


Gloria said...

Wow, you must have been beside yourself. I don't know what I'd do if my son were right in the thick of things like that, as your one daughter was. I'd be a nervous wreck until I saw he was safe. And thank God your other daughter was smart enough to get in that truck and LEAVE. Smart girl. Such a sad, sad story, so tragic...

No Copying!


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