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.