Tragedy at Thurston High School
On May 21st, 1998, fifteen-year-old Kip Kinkel shot dead both of his parents. By car, he drove to school and opened fire on his classmates. Before the police overpowered him, he killed two students and wounded 25. The search for his true motives begins with a farewell letter he left behind after the murder of his parents, “I am a horrible son. I wish I had been aborted. I destroy everything I touch. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I didn’t deserve [my parents].” Apparently, long before his outbreak of violence, he felt he was an exceptionally inferior human being, but why?
Kip suffered under the unceasing performance pressure by his father, who through daily conditioning wanted to transform his son into a successful tennis athlete and academic superstar. Almost every day, he would criticize his son for his mistakes, speak with contempt for Kip’s poor achievements, or scold his son whenever Kip failed to measure up to the perfect ideal his father expected of him. Despite his high IQ, Kip struggled with a form of dyslexia and, consequently, with learning difficulties. Therefore, his mother took it up to herself to tutor her son for hours until late in the evening. This exhausted her so much that colleagues from work advised her to quit. Nonetheless, Kip’s mother persevered and robbed him of all his leisure time.
Kip lived as a serf in the feudal regime of two oppressive parents. Despite that they moved heaven and earth in order to ‘improve’ Kip, nothing helped. He simply could not become the boy his parents wanted him to be. Writer Carol Anne Davis investigated the Kinkel case in her book Children Who Kill and enlightens us with her insight:
“Relatively rich children like Kip are seen as lucky by many – but the reality is that when their family scapegoats them no one intervenes. Eventually, the child snaps under the pressure and goes mad and at this stage, the medical system and the parents conspire to say that the madness was already in the child. If he or she instead—or later—goes bad then the law steps in to find the child’s supposed inherent badness. No one looks for the root cause.”
No one looks for the root cause. As a teenager, Kip suffered so badly from his parents’ humiliations that he developed multiple mental disorders, among others hearing voices in his head. At the instance of his mother, he thereon went into therapy. Psychologist Jeffrey Hicks describes the session during which Kip, for the first time in his life, finds the courage to tell an adult his side of the story:
“He reported his mother views him as a ‘good kid with some bad habits’ while his father sees him as ‘a bad kid with bad habits.’ […] When asked with whom he can talk about personal issues he identified his friends and, to a lesser degree, his mother. He cannot discuss his feelings with his father for fear [his father] will become angry with him. He feels he has little in common with his parents and finds talking to them difficult.”
Indeed, Kip had nothing in common with his parents: they were careerists searching for social status, while he, according to his older sister, was a gentle, sensitive boy.
A Most Destructive Ideology
The idea that people come into the world as a tabula rasa, as a blank slate that society and educators can shape in their own image, simply isn’t right. We can freely choose our personal entertainment culture, eating habits or art preferences, but we can’t mold people’s personalities into the desired end result without wreaking gross havoc. Concerning human dignity, the idea of a socially engineered humanity, and thus of a socially engineered child, is the most destructive ideology of our time.
During the court case against Kip, four psychologists independently from one another made statements about the difficult relationship he had had with his parents. Everything points to him having lived under a constant fear of making mistakes—at school, doing sports and at home—because every time it tremendously angered his parents. They seized every opportunity to dismiss his character, his true self. Kip articulated his daily reality as follows:
“We stopped at the Burger King on the way home, and we ordered two Whoppers. We sat down. My dad said to me, ‘You disgust me,’ and he got up and went to the car to eat his hamburger. ‘I couldn’t eat because the voices had started. I just sat there. I threw the Whopper away and started to walk out, but then realized that there was too little time to have eaten it. And so I went to the bathroom for a while before I went back to the car. I didn’t want my dad yelling at me for not eating the Whopper, wasting money.’”
Kip internalized his father’s message as if he were a disgusting son who disappointed his superior, gifted and athletic parents with his inferior existence. The only possibility left for him to live up to his parents’ conditional love was to become the monster his parents had accused of being. Kip killed his parents out of revenge to defend himself against the unceasing attack on his personality.
That is neither a plea for his acquittal nor a justification for Kip’s atrocities, but society may no longer deny that, before they derailed, boys like Kip Kinkel had first been driven to existential despair by their own parents.
Peter Langman, “Kip Kinkel’s Writings,” 2014.
Carole Anne Davis, Children Who Kill: Profiles of Pre-Teen and Teenage Killers (London: Allison & Busby, 2003), chap. 10: Under Pressure.
Jeffrey Hicks, “Kip Kinkel: Psychotherapy Notes from Dr. Jeffrey Hicks,” January 20, 1997.
Davis, Children Who Kill: Profiles of Pre-Teen and Teenage Killers, chap. 10: Under Pressure.