The Killer At Thurston High | Review & Reflections

Posted on December 21, 2012


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In September 1998, Kip Kinkel confessed to killing his parents in their home on May 20, 1998 and the next day, walking into the Thurston High School cafeteria and spraying students with 50 rounds from a semiautomatic rifle, killing two students, Ben Walker, 16, and Mikael Nickolauson, 17, and wounding 25 others. Kip was charged with four counts of aggravated murder and 26 counts of aggravated attempted murder (for the 25 students he wounded, plus his later assault on a police detective.)

In November 1999, he was sentenced to more than 111 years in prison, without a chance of parole. The sentence was handed down after a six-day hearing in which Lane County Circuit Court Judge Jack Mattison heard details of Kip’s crimes from investigators and eyewitnesses, listened to debates about Kip’s mental health, and heard statements from the victims and their families.

— VIA —

PBS has also aired a program After Newtown, a conglomerate mix of PBS shows and reporters/commentators taking a holistic look at the problem. I am glad to hear of PBS’s approach to journalism, however, I also lament the fact that this wholistic evaluative lens is not more adhered to in our public and private conversations.

As we listen to the arguments, reasons, and rhetoric of a post-shooting event, I am struck with the ways in which people narrowly focus on particulars. Mothers with mentally ill children say we need to talk about mental illness. The NRA says we need armed guards. The politicians say we need legislation. Psychologists say we need an overhaul at our performance culture. And most perversely, the religious say we need to “put God back in our nation,” (whatever that really means). Not surprisingly, each of these “reasons” and “solutions” are actually reflections of that person’s area of control and power, not an objective evaluation of the complex realities that are involved in tragedies such as this.

In other words, when we only blame particulars (or prop up particulars as the answer), we subconsciously admit our narcissistic lens, and unconsciously confess that we are really attempting to empower ourselves.

This is understandable. Having some sense of control is a natural response to events that are “out of control.” It is also understandable that we would view solutions through the lens of our own expertise, or area of convicted interest. But if we are to get to real solutions, then we need a “real life” evaluation. This means stepping back from the particulars, and embracing the whole mosaic that is reality.

This is where Frontline’s production of Kip Kinkle is extremely helpful and necessary (along with their other contributions). I would commend to anyone who seeks to understand to listen carefully and deeply to the confession tape of Kip Kinkle in this production, and take into consideration all of the factors surrounding this case (it would behoove us to do the same with the other school shootings as well). While the emotions of this production are simply awful, it is a good portrayal of a whole host of a variety of factors of which no one particular on its own could ever do justice.

My friend mentioned that this is the truth in engineering as well. When a project goes wrong, rarely, if ever, is it one particular cause. Usually, it is a mix of a whole host of factors, which are deeply interrelated, yet separate issues all together. One tweak of one parameter may have great implications on three or four other factors, of which they would be fine, had the circumstances been different. This is, in a nutshell, the problem with our public mass shootings. We simply cannot blame one issue or factor. We must accept the intermixed reality of a whole host of factors. And, as each one does their job of “fixing” what went wrong, we must, like good engineers, consider the implications to the other particulars. Mental health advocates must consider political legislation. Second Amendment advocates must consider cultural psychology. And religious people must consider secular factors and reasoning. And if we can do this, then we will be much further down the road toward healing than if any one part employed their “solution” on their own.

May we embrace the fullness of our humanity, the breadth of our depravity, and the totality of our redemption and rescue in this world by acknowledging, honoring, and fully considering each particular in community with all the other particulars. And may we think about and consider deeply, the incompleteness of our limited perspective and be enlightened by the whole picture.