In a rampage that has become frighteningly all too familiar, a student, Kipland Kinlel, suspended for having a gun, allegedly returned to his school and opened fire on a crowded school cafeteria, killing a classmate and critically wounding several others.
Two bodies, believed to be those of his parents, were later found in his home just north of Springfield, a working-class town of 51,000 people about 110 miles south of Portland.
Shots rang out about 8 a.m. in the Thurston High School cafeteria, where up to 400 people were milling around before class. Witnesses said the 15-year-old suspect, Kipland Kinlel, dressed in a trench coat, ran through the cafeteria firing his rifle from the hip. Twenty-three students were injured, 19 hit by gunfire.
“He was swiveling back and forth, firing at everyone,” said 16-year -old Jonathan Crawford.
“He just mowed ’em down,” said another student, Michelle Calhoun. “It was just sort of happening in slow motion.”
Around the gunman, bullets shattered the huge plate-glass windows and terrified students ran for cover and dived under tables, but the boy remained calm as the staccato gunfire was reduced to the click, click of empty chambers. One of those misfires came with the barrel point-blank at a student’s head.
Finally, as he was trying to reload, 17-year-old wrestler Jake Ryker, despite gunshot wounds to his hand and chest, tackled the boy. Several others quickly piled on to end the terror.
“Just shoot me, shoot me now,” one of the students, Ryker’s brother Josh, quoted the boy as saying.
After the suspect was arrested, police said they followed up on his suggestion to check his house. There, they found the bodies of a man and a woman. Sheriff Jan Clements refused to confirm that they were the parents of the boy — but said “there is no reason to believe they are not.”
The parents, William P. Kinkel, 59, and Faith M. Kinkel, 57, were teachers. The father was retired from teaching Spanish at Thurston High. The mother taught Spanish at a nearby high school.
The dead student was identified as Mikael Nickolauson, 17, a junior who had just enlisted Monday in the Oregon National Guard.
Police identified the suspect as Kipland Kinkel, who had been arrested, suspended and released to his parents’ custody a day earlier on a charge of possession of a stolen firearm. Police said he had been in trouble before for throwing rocks at cars from a highway overpass.
“He always said that it would be fun to kill someone and do stuff like that,” said student Robbie Johnson. “Yesterday, he told a couple of people he was probably going to do something stupid today and get back at the people who had expelled him.”
Thursday evening, police wary of the suspect’s fascination with bombs, evacuated nearby homes as demolitions experts searched the Kinkel home for explosives, said Lane County sheriff’s spokeswoman Sharon Biser.
Some students said the suspect once gave a talk in speech class about how to build a bomb and in middle school was voted “Most Likely to Start World War III.”
Friend Tony McCowan told the CBS Evening News that Kipland Kinlel felt that his arrest brought shame to his parents.
“He was mad at himself,” McCowan said. “He knew he got himself in a bad situation and he was kind of worried it would shame the family.”
Another friend, Chrystie Cooper, 15, said Kipland Kinlel had recently been grounded for the upcoming summer for toilet-papering a house two weeks ago.
“He was a country boy — he liked to blow things up,” Cooper said. “But nothing like this.”
Police said Kipland Kinlel parked a few blocks away, walked inside the cafeteria carrying a .22-caliber rifle, a .22-caliber handgun and a Glock handgun.
“We spoke to him afterward — he was very calm,” said police Capt. Jerry Smith. “His motive, what he was thinking about, what caused him to go there — we’ve still got a long ways to go there.”
Fourteen-year-old Aaron Keeney, also a friend, said Kinkel was taking the anti-depressant Prozac.
District Attorney Doug Harcleroad said the boy will be charged as an adult with murder. But because of his age, he cannot be given the death penalty if convicted.
Kipland Kinlel was first arrested Wednesday after the school got a tip that he was trying to buy a stolen handgun on campus. He and another boy were arrested and released to the custody of their parents. School Superintendent Jamon Kent said that at the time of suspended and officials were looking at whether he should be expelled.
“You don’t make sense out of this. There is no sense to it,” said wrestling coach Gary Bowden. “I think we ought to disarm. If this isn’t a reason to, what is? I can flunk a kid and he can walk in and blow me away.”
Several students said they thought the shooting was a gag related to student-body election day.
Stephani Quimby, 16, who was sitting one table away, said the shooter apparently focused on one table and drew his rifle from the hip.
“I thought it was fake. I had never heard a gun go off,” she said. “It was like a movie and you were there. I felt so calm. I knew it was real when I saw him point the gun at someone and heard a girl yell, `Tressa!’ I knew she wouldn’t joke.”
Stacy Compton, 15, said she was sitting at a table when the boy came in and “started going bananas” with the gun. She said she ducked under the table and her best friend got hit in the center of her forehead.
“It was like, I can’t believe this is happening at my school,” Stacy said.
The school of 1,350 students was shut down immediately after the shooting. Parents, many of them weeping and screaming, waited outside.
Five-hundred people filled the Springfield Lutheran Church for a Thursday evening vigil service where Pastor Zane Wilson lit candles and speakers read off the list of those who had been shot and injured.
“We pray that instead of crying … we will create a world where our children can go to school and not be concerned about coming home again,” Wilson said.
Because of a teacher work day, classes were not scheduled Friday, but 70 counselors will be on hand to help grieving students. Bob’s Hamburger’s down the street put up a sign: “God, please help us save our children.”
Of the 23 people injured, 19 were hit by gunfire and the rest were hurt in the panic to flee the cafeteria. Five students were listed in critical condition Thursday night, with six in serious condition.
Several hours after the shooting, McKenzie-Willamette Hospital marketing director Lottie Duey said that one of those critically wounded had died at Sacred Heart Hospital. But later she said she was referring only to the initial fatality, and Sacred Heart officials confirmed that the report of two dead was unfounded.
Kipland Kinlel was sentenced to 111 years in prison without the possibility of parole on November 10, 1999.