Killer at Thurston High

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In recent decades, a significant amount of school shootings has taken place. The nature of these school shootings differs depending on the school, as well as the shooter or shooters. However, in many instances the killer has a number of features that have occurred to him or her earlier in life that may have foretold the events that took place at the later date. The Thurston High School shooting, perpetrated by Kip Kinkel, was one such significant shooting event. The American Psychological Association established four major factors that were correlated with juvenile violence, “(1) early involvement with drugs and alcohol; (2) easy access to weapons, especially handguns; (3) association with anti-social, deviant peer groups; and (4) pervasive exposure to violence in the media” (Sullivan). When one considers Kinkel’s background, it’s clear that he exhibited some of these traits, though not all. The present research examines the factors that contributed to this shooting and argues that the reason behind the horrific events appears to be the result of a complex array array of elements.

Many possible factors can potentially be identified in Kinkel’s upbringing. A significant amount of early childhood development issues emerged that may have at least signaled his later life difficulties and eventual turn to violence. In these regards, he struggled as a child and had difficulty keeping up at times. Such difficulties were embodied in his having to repeat first grade at Waterville Elementary (“Who Is Kip Kinkel? – Chronology | The Killer At Thurston High”). In the second grade, his problems with language emerged, showing that he had an extremely low score on the motor/hand skill test (“Who Is Kip Kinkel? – Chronology | The Killer At Thurston High”). In the third grade he began attending special education courses after struggling in his other classes. In the fourth grade, he continued to exhibit learning disabilities. These early struggles would seem to indicate that he would also face similar challenges later in life. When these challenges were not dealt with or treated in an effective way, they could have led to his violent behavior.

While these early childhood development challenges undoubtedly situated him as an individual who was not in the traditional spectrum of society, such conditions alone should not be seen as predictive factors. Rather, it seems that as Kinkel developed throughout adolescence he exhibited factors that demonstrated his personality was geared towards crime and violence.  By the time he reached 8th grade, he was engaging in juvenile delinquency, such as stealing music from local record stores. When he went on a school field trip, he was arrested for dropping pebbles off a car overpass. He would also listen to heavy metal music that promoted evil words and ideas. He had attempted to make a bomb when he was young with his friends and after having the supplies shipped to the school he was caught. Later he completed a report about building bombs and even made a report for school using that book. Another of Kinkel’s interests was guns. While his parents discouraged this interest, he was allowed a beebee gun, which he altered to make look like an assault rifle. When he was 12 they even allowed him to have a rifle (“Kip Kinkel “The Killer At Thurston High” Documentary”). Such a connection between tendencies to violence, negative media influence, and exposure to guns all situate him on a dangerous trajectory.

Although his parents and upbringing may have contributed to his negative development to some degree, it seems that to a much greater extent this trajectory of his development was a result of his genetics. Writing in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell stated that, “He had a loving family. He was the child of schoolteachers so beloved that seventeen hundred people came to their memorial service” (Gladwell). Undoubtedly, it appears that mental illness contributed to Kinkel’s behavior to a strong degree. Kinkel’s own attorney indicated that he had schizophrenia that was un-medicated (Bernstein). Gladwell also supported this interpretation, writing, “he thought the Chinese were preparing to attack the United States, that Disney had plans for world domination, and that the government had place a computer chip inside his head” (Gladwell). In this respect, Kip’s actions could have simply been the result of irrational thought processes that had taken hold, such that attempting to determine their precise motivation would be fruitless.

When Kip visited the psychologist, among the information that was revealed was that he felt better after detonating an explosive. In another instance, Kinkel was recognized as engaging in direct forms of expressing his appreciation for this type of stress relief. On a school paper he once wrote, “I will hunt you down and put a hole in your head. With explosives. You hear me. Power to the shampoo. RIP [sad face with Xed out eyes]. You must DIE” (“Who Is Kip Kinkel? – Kip’s Writings And Statements”). Kip expressed similar enjoyment in other elements of his life. For instance, in letters that were found he wished to kill another student, but ultimately decided against it (“Kip Kinkel “The Killer At Thurston High” Documentary”). Such instances possibly attest to Kip developing a cognitive-behavioral connection between his mental problems and the resolving them through such violent expressions. If this were the case, one could consider that his parents were partly at fault in his developing such habits because they resulted in his having easy access to firearms. In this way, someone with his history of mental illness and delinquency perhaps should not have been granted such ready access.

In conclusion, the present essay has examined the reasons that may have contributed to the Thurston High School shooting. Within this spectrum of investigation, the research argues that Kip Kinkel was genetically pre-disposed to mental illness. When this illness was combined with his ready access to firearms, it may have contributed to his developing in ways that later contributed to the expression of his frustrations through such violence. Ultimately, the complexity of his psychology and the situation makes it difficult to precisely determine.

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  1. Bernstein, Maxine. “Oregon Court Of Appeals Affirms Kip Kinkel’s Nearly 112-Year Sentence”. Oregonlive.Com, 2016, http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/02/oregon_court_of_appeals_affirm.html.
  2. Gladwell, Malcolm. “How School Shootings Spread”. The New Yorker, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/19/thresholds-of-violence.
  3. “Kip Kinkel “The Killer At Thurston High” Documentary”. Youtube, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm9huZL_oxU&t=7s.
  4. Sullivan, Randall. “Kip Kinkel: A Boy’s Life, Part 2”. Rolling Stone, 1998, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-boys-life-19981001.
  5.  “Who Is Kip Kinkel? – Kip’s Writings And Statements | The Killer At Thurston High | FRONTLINE | PBS”. Pbs.Org, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kinkel/kip/writings.html.
  6. “Who Is Kip Kinkel? – Chronology | The Killer At Thurston High | FRONTLINE | PBS”. Pbs.Org, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kinkel/kip/cron.html.
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