The Thurston High School community in Springfield, Ore., was struggling late last week to cope with the all-too-familiar horror unleashed when a gunman opened fire in the school’s cafeteria, killing two students and injuring 22 more. A freshman student accused of the shootings was being held by police.
The 1,500-student school was to be open last Friday, one day after the May 21 incident, for grieving and counseling, not classes. At the request of state education officials, a federal assistance team of crisis counselors and school psychologists headed to Springfield, a suburb of Eugene with 51,000 residents.
Coordinated by the U.S. departments of Education and Justice and drawn from all over the country, the team had done similar grim duty at the site of other recent school shootings in West Paducah, Ky., and Jonesboro, Ark. (“Legislators Tackle Youth Crime via New Juvenile-Justice Routes,” April 15, 1998 and “In the Wake of Tragedy,” Dec. 10, 1997.)
At Thurston High School, Mikael Nickolauson, 17, was killed by the gunfire that erupted at 8:05 a.m. as hundreds of students gathered before classes in the cafeteria. Ben Walker, also 17, died later at a hospital. Four students remained in critical condition late last week.
The alleged gunman, Kipland P. Kinkel, 15, had been arrested and reportedly expelled the day before for having a gun at school. Police said that the weapon had been stolen and that the youth had been released to his parents’ custody after the gun arrest.
Police said the day of the shootings Mr. Kinkel had been carrying three guns--a .22-caliber rifle, a .22-caliber handgun, and a Glock pistol. It was unclear last week where he had obtained them. Under Oregon law, he could be charged as an adult in the shootings but could not be executed if found guilty.
About 90 minutes after the shootings, sheriff’s deputies discovered two dead adults, a man and a woman, inside Mr. Kinkel’s house. Police said they believed the bodies to be those of the suspect’s parents, but their identities had not been officially confirmed late last week.
The Springfield shootings again hit a national nerve worn raw by a succession of particularly violent incidents at schools. This latest incident marked the fifth multiple-victim shooting at a school or school function since October.
The tragedy in Oregon also followed closely a fatal shooting May 19 at Lincoln County High School in Fayetteville, Tenn. Three days before their graduation, senior Jacob Davis allegedly shot classmate Nicholas Creson three times at close range, in an apparent dispute over a girl.
President Clinton telephoned the principal of Thurston High and the mayor of Springfield to offer his sympathy and support. U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in a statement called the recent spate of gun violence by students “a new and disturbing pattern.” He said, “I am troubled by the disconnection that seems to haunt too many of our children and by their easy access to guns.”
At a briefing, Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon said adults need to examine “what kind of despair drives children to this kind of violence?”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Norma Paulus sounded an angry and defensive note. “This is not a school problem. This is a societal problem,” she said. She laid blame on the legislature for approving last year just $10 million of her request for $40 million for the Head Start program, which, she said, “we know works and helps prevent this.”
“The number of abused and neglected children in this state is an absolute disgrace,” she continued. “Both the governor and I and the boards of education have been saying this. ... It’s time for other people to wake up.”
Staff Writer Andrew Trotter contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the May 27, 1998 edition of Education Week as Two Students Die, 22 Injured in Ore. Rampage