Kipland Kinkel: Mental Illness Victim or Premeditated Murderer?
Events that unfolded on the 20th and 21st of May 1998, in a quiet small town in Oregon reverberated across the globe. Kipland Kinkel, a 15 year old student at Thurston High School murdered four people and injured twenty five more in a horrific school shooting. Among the dead were his parents, whom he killed at home and two schoolmates who died during the school shooting. Following his arrest, Kinkel is said to have “confessed to the police for the brutal murders, claiming that he heard voices in his head that told him to kill them” (Lieberman 5). It was quite unusual for such a young lad to commit such horrendous act in the town of Springfield, Oregon which was notably a peaceful and communal place. The event raised many questions regarding security measures within schools and gun control. Why did he do it? What could possibly have driven a teen to murder his parents and shoot at his schoolmates? Could this teen be mentally ill or was all this premeditated? How did he get the gun?
Kipland Kinkel had always had problems at school from an early age. There were always signs of trouble in school and frustrations. This added to the fact that he was a slow learner and always spent most of his time by himself. By the time he was in middle school, Kinkel had started shoplifting and was even in one instance arrested for hitting a car with stones from an overpass. Kinkel’s mother became worried of his sons behavior, and sought professional help by putting his son in therapy. Doctors who treated Kinkel during therapy stated that he had exhibited signs of remorse for his actions and had a great deal of willingness to improve on his life. They prescribed Prozac for Kinkel, “an antidepressant that is used in the treatment of major depression cases” (Mick 21). The medication seemed to work, and Kinkel went on to finish middle school without showing any destructive or unstable emotional behavior as he used to.
Kinkel later joined Thurston High school, and all seemed to be going on well with his school life and general conduct. It is during this time that Kinkel is believed to have gone off Prozac, basically a few months after joining high school. He seemed to interact more with other students and his grades were slowly improving. In one of his classroom presentations, Kinkel is said to have given a presentation on how to make a bomb, which explained the bomb making process in detail. He included pictures and gave a clear description of the process. Although unconventional for a classroom presentation, this did not strike his classmates as unusual; in fact, the presentations were supposed to be abstract, with other students presenting topics such as joining the freemasonry.
On the 20th of May 1998, Kinkel bought a semi-automatic pistol from one of his schoolmates. The gun had been previously stolen from another schoolmate’s father, who on realizing it was missing, contacted the school. The concerned parent stating that he had reason to believe that one of the students might be having it, and asked the school to look into it. Coincidentally, the call came when a detective was in the school on other matters, and the schools administration asked him to help trace who might be having it. The detective managed to trace the stolen gun back to Kinkel, who later confessed to having it. Kinkel and his friend were suspended from school and later arrested and taken to the police station. His father, on learning about the arrest rushed to the police station, and secured his release and they went back home. It is at his home where Kinkel shot his father at the back of his head, killing him. His mother arrived later in the evening and Kinkel followed her to the garage, where he shot her six times killing her too. He then covered both bodies with sheets.
On the 21st of May, 1998, Kinkel went to school as usual, even though he had been suspended. He is said to have brought with him a knife and three guns. He entered the school’s cafeteria where he indiscriminately shot at the students, killing two and injuring 25 more. Fortunately, amid the chaos, some students were able to restrain him and pin him to the ground as they waited for help from authorities. When the police arrived, Kinkel is said to have been shouting that he wanted to die, as he was being escorted away. Police officers took him for questioning where he confessed to the killings.
Police officers later went to his house, where they found the two bodies of Kinkel’s parents. Inside the house they found the day’s newspaper and a freshly used bowl on the kitchen table. This was quite absurd. There were also signs that Kinkel had tried to wipe blood from the house. The most shocking discovery however was a confession note written by Kinkel. In the note, Kinkel explained that he heard voices in his head that urged him to kill his parents and later go to school and kill other students. He also wrote down that he was sorry for what he had done but also needed to kill other people. Prosecutors would later argue during court proceedings that Kinkel had acted in a rational manner but the fact that Kinkel had written a note explaining that he heard voices in his head brought about a question of whether this teen was suffering from psychotic episodes.
After Kinkel’s arrest, various psychiatrists tried to diagnose him. It was a fact that Kinkel was a deeply depressed boy; his previous psychiatric visits as a small boy were testimony to this. Among the most notable psychiatrists was Dr. Orin Bolstad, who explained that Kinkel exhibited signs of major paranoid delusions, commonly associated with the onset of schizophrenia. Dr. Bolstad added that Kinkel was deeply depressed and felt alienated, and blamed adults for this, adults whom Kinkel described as untrustworthy and unfair. He then concluded by explaining that Kinkel had very low self esteem, was paranoid and manipulative (Expert 1)
During the numerous psychiatric evaluations, Kinkel confessed to have been hearing voices in his head from as early as the sixth grade, a condition called auditory hallucinations. He explained that the voices disturbed him and he tried to ward them off by watching TV and biking. Kinkel never told anyone about these voices he was hearing, since he was afraid people would not understand him, narrated Dr. Bolstad (Expert 1). Another psychiatrist, Dr. William Sack stated that enough evidence existed to support the fact that Kinkel was a mentally ill teen and that auditory hallucinations drove him to commit the atrocities. In a statement, he explained that he felt Kinkel’s behavior in the course of the two days in question was directly related to a psychotic disorder. He believed that Kinkel’s condition was like a time bomb waiting to explode, and that it did during the two days (Psychological).
Dr. Balstad in his opinion strongly believed that hallucinatory voices were solely responsible for Kinkel’s murder of his parents and the school shootings. Kinkel had explained to him that he saw his father seated in the kitchen and heard a voice telling him to shoot him. The voice also told him to go to school and kill other students (Expert 1). These psychological evaluations made it clear that Kinkel was mentally ill. Dr. Bolstad agreed that there was no way to undo what had done and at the same time, argued that people needed to understand that Kinkel showed signs schizophrenia. He accepted that Kinkel had to be taken away. The streets were not safe having him walking around as long as he exhibited symptoms of the disease and the only way to assist Kinkel was to put in a combination of medicine and strong support mechanisms to keep the condition at bay (Expert 2).
Kinkel’s trial carried on in the course of six days. Doctors tried relentlessly to prove that Kinkel was a victim of mental illness, but their arguments were overshadowed by statements made by victims of the school shooting. The victims urged the court to hand Kinkel the maximum sentence, as they were physically and emotionally traumatized by the atrocious acts of a boy they all knew too well as a trouble maker. The judge eventually sentenced Kinkel to serve a life sentence of 111 years in prison. Kinkel became the first juvenile in Oregon State to serve a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Following the events that transpired in Kinkel’s life, I believe all members of a community; including parents, teachers and friends should at all times be very observant of children’s behaviors. Any child who shows signs of being socially detached or deeply emotionally disturbed should be a sense of concern. Such children need to be given maximum attention, with parents and guardians expected to take a close look and learn what might be transpiring in that child’s life. Psychological services need to be extensively utilized in cases where a child shows symptoms of unusual emotional behavior.
In the case of Kinkel for example, it was until after his arrest that neuro-psychologists learnt of reduced blood flow to his frontal lobe, following computerized brain scans. The frontal lobe, which is associated with decision making and emotional control, lacked adequate blood flow, meaning Kinkel emotional control and decision making were highly compromised. According to Dr. Bolstad, children who showed signs of limited blood supply to the frontal lobe later became schizophrenic, and believed that Kinkel’s case was the same (Psychological). Had deep neuro-psychological tests been carried out on Kinkel at an early age, the unfortunate events would not have transpired. William and Ian explain that thorough analysis needs to be carried out on a person who is clinically depressed as this can in future help the patient, stopping outburst of violence and maybe saving a few lives in the process (243).
Avison, William and Gotlib H. Ian. Stress and Mental Health: Contemporary Issues and Prospects for the Future. New York: Spring Media & Business Media, 2013. Print
Lieberman A. Joseph. School Shootings: What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect our Children. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp, 2006. Print.
Power Mick. Madness Cracked. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005. Print
“An Experts Opinion. Frontline: The Killer at Thurston High.” http:/www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kinkel/trial/#4. 12 December 2000. 11 November 2000.
“A Psychological/Medical Testimony. Frontline: The Killer at Thurston High.” http:/www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kinkel/etc/opd.html. 12 December 1999. 11 November 2000.