8 years later: Thurston and Kinkel revisited
It has been eight years since 15-year-old Kip Kinkel fatally shot two Thurston High School students and wounded 25 others after murdering his parents in their home. On Saturday, Springfield Police Chief Jerry Smith recounted the incident in a public presentation at the Springfield City Hall Library Meeting Room titled, “Springfield Cops Behind the Scenes: The Thurston Shooting,” a presentation that came just two days after another armed 15-year-old boy was arrested on the Sheldon High School campus in Eugene.
It began with the actual 911-dispatch recording on the morning of May 21, 1998. As the recording played, an older woman wiped away tears from her eyes.
Smith, chief of police since 1999, reviewed a 13-minute-timeline with the audience from when Kinkel arrived on campus until after he was taken into custody.
At 7:50 a.m., security cameras recorded Kinkel entering campus and turning down the hallway towards the cafeteria where he fatally shot 16-year-old Ben Walker and wounded another student. He then walked through the cafeteria doors and opened fire. Kinkel wounded 24 students and killed 17-year-old Mikeal Nicholauson, before other students subdued him. At 8:00, two injured students were reported; at 8:01 medics were staged outside the school; and at 8:02 McKenzie-Willamette Hospital was put on trauma alert. By 8:03, Kinkel was in custody.
Smith showed a profile picture of Kinkel in the khaki-colored trench coat he wore to conceal his weapons. Another picture displayed the four weapons laid on a table: a .22 Ruger semi-automatic rifle, a .22 Ruger pistol, a 9MM Glock pistol and a hunting knife.
“Kip Kinkel had 1,127 rounds of ammunition on him,” said Smith, a former U.S. Marine who spent 13 months on the ground during the Vietnam War. “I went into Vietnam with a third of that.”
Kinkel fired 51 rounds and had 37 hits. According to Smith, that is remarkably accurate – even for a trained soldier.
Smith explained to the audience how the investigation evolved as new information came to light: Namely, that Kinkel knew about explosives and that he had murdered his parents – Spanish teachers Bill and Faith Kinkel at Thurston and Springfield High schools, respectively.
He also talked about detriments to the investigation such as the perpetuation of rumors by the national media, particularly the Associated Press wire service, which he accused of sensationalized reporting. The wire service could not be reached as of press time.
“They talked to some 15-year-old kid that didn’t know which end was up,” Smith said. “And they took it as gospel.”
Smith said national media reporters pretended to be students, grieving parents and medics to get close to victims and witnesses.
At the end of his presentation, Smith opened up the floor to questions, during which he was asked what his thoughts were upon entering the cafeteria.
“I’ll be a little selfish here,” he said. “It took about a minute and a half in the cafeteria to determine my son (a Thurston freshman) wasn’t there.”
Adult Services Manager Jenny Peterson, organizer of the talk, reminded the audience that while the shooting at Thurston is not unique, “the hurt and tragedy is unique to the community.”