Friday, July 4, 2008

When tragedy hit "home"

May 21, 1998. I had just returned home from retrieving Darling Daughter from nursery school. I was standing at the kitchen sink, loading the dishwasher; Darling Daughter, three years old, was sitting at the table eating lunch. Behind me, the small portable television was on to the local mid-day news; I was half-listening to it as I worked. I snapped to attention when I heard "School shooting in Springfield, Oregon." I spun around, but the newscaster had already moved on. Massachusetts is 2500 miles from Oregon and there were local stories to talk about.

I quickly switched the channel to CNN; they were showing live footage of the havoc and confusion going on "back home." I burst into tears. The screen showed dazed and bloodied students wandering out of the high school. Ambulances and police cars, lights flashing, were in every view. I heard the words "Thurston High School" and "shooter Kip Kinkel, tackled by fellow students, now in custody." Two students dead, 25 wounded. Kip Kinkel shot and killed his parents at home the night before; the following morning he took a knife and three guns to school and began firing. Like the rest of the country, I was stunned.

Kinkel? My favorite teacher, known as Faith Z(xxxx) when I began junior high, married soon after, and became Faith Kinkel. I had never known another Kinkel. Could there be a connection?

I stayed glued to CNN for the remainder of the day, distraught and sick to my stomach. The first names of Kip Kinkel's parents were never mentioned. Finally, near midnight, a photo was shown of the Kinkel family on a ski vacation .

Though 20 years had passed, I immediately recognized her long red hair and wide smile. It was indeed Faith Kinkel. My french teacher, who taught us well, and made learning fun. Violently killed by her own son.

At 6pm on May 2o, 1998, in the family kitchen, 15 year old Kip Kinkel shot his father in the back of the head with one shot, execution style. He then waited for his mother to return home. He met her in the garage, told her he loved her, and shot her six times: four times in the head, and two in the heart.


It's been ten years since that awful day. Now 25 years old, Kip Kinkel was recently transferred from the juvenile facility to the adult correctional facility. A photo of the 25 year old Kip was shown. As an adult, he clearly takes after his mother...the same wide-set eyes; her hair; her mouth. It pains me to see her face in his.

There were school shootings before the Thurston High School tragedy; there have been many since. The April 1999 images of Columbine students frantically scrambling out the windows are etched in our collective memory.

In the days (and months) after the Thurston shooting, many voiced outrage at Kip Kinkel's deceased parents. Kip had long had a fascination for guns. After initially fighting it, his father eventually gave in, bought him guns, signed him up for NRA gun safety classes. In fact I've never read anything positive about his parents. I don't defend the gun purchases, but my affection and admiration for Madame Kinkel will not be changed.

After every shooting, the locals are quoted, saying "We never thought this could happen here." On May 21, 1998, I learned it could happen anywhere.


noble pig said...

It's terrible isn't it? And un-imaginable. I hope our children are always safe and these families somehow heal.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

It is difficult enough to hear about these tragedies without a personal connection. This must have been truly horrible for you.

Momma said...

I'm so sorry that your well-remembered French teacher had to die that way, at the hands of her own son after he told her he loved her. I wonder if he was trying to spare his parents the aftermath of what he was about to do (in some twisted way)?

We will never fully understand the mental illness that is behind these tragedies. I can tell you that my daughter, who is mentally ill, rarely showed violence to anyone but herself, but she spent a lot of time in the hospital during her teen years. Anytime we noticed something spiraling down, we took her in. It's a hard thing to do as a parent. Some kids, though, keep it so well hidden that it appears they are only going through the typical teenage angst. In Kip's case, that was probably true.

I am so sorry that you had this connection, and I hope the souls of his parents are at peace.


Queen Mommy said...

I don't have words. In these tragedies we all imagine ourselves in "their" shoes, we would have all done it differently. As a parent, we do everything we can to prevent a fascination with guns and yet, sometimes their fascination overpowers them and us. So very sad indeed.

Lois said...

It brings me go tears to have read the Kinkel tragedy, in your post. It was just in the newspaper in May, the update on Kip. I cried then too. when I read that story. My only connection with the family was my daughter, who had Faith as her French teacher... I do remember your love for her, and how you enjoyed her class....What a sad and terrible thing it took, to bring Springfield, Oregon to the attention of the country. But it did...
Happy note.... just now viewed your Monday blog. Beautiful photo's, beautiful churches. Wednesday's blog didn't look bad either. Yumm Raspberry w/chocolate. my favorite...
Love you...Mom

Tee said...

This is so sad. It's especially painful when you know those involved. Do you ever get over something like this?

Terry said...

OMG, I remember that horrible day also. We were in the midst of yet another move, and my husband was working 4 hours south at our new hometown. I was headed to an assembly at our children's school when the newsbreak came on the TV. At the same time, I received a phone call from another friend of mine that there had been a shooting at the school where her brother taught. A high school in the town next to our hometown.

As I headed out the door to the school, we had a van with a TV in it, so I pulled into the parking lot and turned on the TV while I waited until the last minute to go in. As I sat there watching the news, I too, had the same questions as you; Kip Kinkel, could it be the same Kinkel?; It was Mademoiselle Zuranski, wasn't it, before she got married? Then, they flashed the picture of the purported killer. There was no doubt in my mind that it was her son. The minute you saw his picture, you knew. I was practically bawling by the time I walked into the school.

I too had her as my French teacher, with you. She was definitely one of my favorite teachers. I still remember the Pledge of Allegiance, in French, probably because we had to say it every day. She made learning fun and an adventure and I have no doubt that she touched every student she ever had in the same way. (Did you eat the escargots?)

It is a tragedy for Madame Kinkel and her family and all of those affected by whatever demons possessed Kip. I pray that everyone affected by this tragedy, can find some comfort knowing that we have deep compassion for what they have endured, however, we also have loving memories of a wonderful teacher and can only imagine how life may have been, behind closed doors.

P.S. You have red hair now?

Julie said...

I remember Madame Kinkel too - wasn't she wonderful?! Felt the same way as both of you when the news broke, and many times since then when Kip resurfaces in the news, I've thought of M. Kinkel.

I've also thought of their daughter - can't remember her name - but she lost her entire family that day. She must be in her early 30's now. Hard to imagine.

Why don't I remember the pledge of allegiance in French, though? Like not at all? We were all little pubescent girls in that class . . . and no, I never tried the escargot. Marlene Smith said they were slimy, and that was all she wrote. I couldn't possibly taste it at that point.