the killer at thurston high
press reaction

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Variety   Ramin Zahed

"Frontline's harrowing look at what led a 15-year old Oregon boy to murder his parents and then open fire on his fellow students in 1998 should be required viewing for anyone concerned about raising children in a violent world. The docu's level-headed 12-month investigation of its subject, and its access to home movies, the boy's writing and unsettling police videos, reveal how this modern-day American tragedy could have been avoided had someone really listened to the boy's cries for help. ...

Although the producers feel the need to stress that this type of horror can await any seemingly happy middle-class family, what comes across at the end is that there were many instances in which the grown-ups in Kip's life could have intervened to save him from alienation and self-hatred, and yet failed to do so. ..."

The Sun  (Baltimore) David Zurawik

"Finally, a television report that makes some sense out of the epidemic of kids going on killer rampages in suburban high schools. ...

...The focus is narrow, but it is also laser-like as it cuts through all the usual media-babble that surrounds such stories and takes us to the core of this boy's worldview. In helping us understand Kinkel, 'Frontline' does a better job of helping us understand the larger problem than any other television report to date. There are no easy answers here, and the truth is scarier than many of us thought. ...

...The fact-gathering and reporting is astonishing compared to the usual hit-and-run standards of the commercial networks and CNN on such stories. 'Frontline' gained access to notes and reports written by a psychologist whom Kinkel was seeing on a weekly basis. The producers also have letters and a journal that Kinkel kept. ...

...In the end, the very best thing about this report is that it refuses to offer a simple answer by pointing a finger at Kinkel's online life or the CDs to which he listened, for example."

Orange County Register Kinney Littlefield

"Would your kids kill you? Might they, could they? And would it be your fault?

That's the monstrous scare lurking inside the new Frontline documentary. Spooky and menacing, the mesmerizing film dissects the dysfunction that made Kip Kindel, 15, kill his apparently nurturing parents and murder two hapless high school students and wound 25 others in Oregon in 1998. ...

In all, the Kinkel case plays like a freaky horror film. And "Killer's" treatment verges on tabloid--an urgent tone, somewhat overblown language, fast-spinning police video footage. Much is made of the Kinkels idyllic, Stepfordlike existence in suburban isolation in the Oregon Woods.

Still this is real-life horror we should not ignore...."

Los Angeles Times Howard Rosenberg

"KILLER DOC: That's what Tuesday's excellent 'Frontline' program is. In 1998, Kip Kinkel, 15, shot dead his mother and father and then murdered two students and wounded 25 others at his high school in Springfield, Ore., for which he was sentenced to 111 years in prison with no possibility of parole.

Produced by Michael Kirk, Miri Navasky and Karen O'Connor, and reported by Peter J. Boyer, 'The Killer at Thurston High' is a sad, chilling and methodical retelling of Kinkel's progression from a kid who was 'kind of mad at his parents' to one who coldly blew them away and targeted others. ...

...The 'Frontline' program raises questions without drawing conclusions, except as Boyer notes ominously, 'Some of us are raising killers in our homes.' "

The Times Picayune  (New Orleans)  Benjamin Morrison

"... The footage ... varies significantly from ordinary documentary film. We get a sense of Kip's anomie, of the collapse of things he can deal with. ...

The film methodically draws us in and sets us up for events that, still, are hard to imagine. Even at the end, there may be no way to understand how this happened. This is devastating."

The Boston Globe John Koch

"The stated premise of tonight's engrossing 'Frontline' report, 'The Killer at Thurston High,' is that Kip Kinkel, the 15-year-old who in 1998 killed his parents and then gunned down scores of schoolmates, wasn't a conspicuously troubled kid. The narration introduces the chronicle as an account of a life of promise nurtured in a comforting community by loving parents. ...

... But this really isn't so.

What we see and hear in this thoroughly reported and skillfully produced 90-minute portrait of Kinkel reveals something quite different. The substance of this deeply probing reconstruction of his early years is at odds with, and far smarter than, the often simple-minded narration. Look closely enough, the documentary seems to say implicitly, and you will perceive signs of a very troubled youngster long before his explosive despair led to patricide, matricide, the bloody shooting murders of two Thurston High schoolmates, and the maiming of several others.

In fact, the picture that emerges is of a family startlingly out of balance ... What gives this film dramatic power is, in fact, the darkening sense of inevitability that develops as it reveals telling facets of Kip's boyhood and adolescence, especially his painfully difficult relationship with his father. ...

...In its way, this resourceful, real-life 'Frontline' tells a tale as strange and dark as 'American Beauty,' with its superficially placid family seething with explosive problems. But as strong as it is, and as valuable for its insights into the mind and background of a young mass murderer, the film would have been better without its hokey-sounding and openly editorial narration. ..."

Orlando Sentinel (Hal Boedeker)

"Harrowing and detailed, The Killer at Thurston High provides a searching examination of what went wrong with Kip Kinkel, the Oregon 15-year-old who killed his parents and two students during a 1998 shooting rampage.

... Frontline never excuses Kinkel as it explores his stormy outlook and never points to one cause for his violence.

Rather, the outstanding documentary suggests many forces bedeviled the boy, though he had caring parents and a comfortable home in a spot ironically called Shangri-La. This complex approach sets Killer at Thurston High apart from most TV reporting on teen violence that has struck from Pearl City, Miss., to Columbine High.

The program's style is distinctive. Its cinematography and ominous music evoke fictional movies rather than documentaries. I'm usually no fan of these flourishes in news, but they are applied here with skill and good sense. ..."

The Star-Ledger  (Newark, NJ) Alan Sepinwall

"... Frontline producers Karen O'Connor and Miri Navasky have done an astonishing amount of reporting for this special, considering how media-wary the people of Springfield became after hordes of camera crews appeared to cover Kinkel's 1998 rampage. There are interviews with classmates, teachers, family friends and, most poignantly, Kinkel's sister, Kristin, who now lives alone in the home where her brother killed her mother and father. ...

...'The Killer at Thurston High' doesn't have any easy answers to explain this epidemic of school shootings that's overtaken the country, but it shows how easily a troubled kid can slip though the cracks, with fatal consequences. It's a powerful 90 minutes that no parent should miss."

The Record  (Hackensack, NJ) Virginia Rohan

"After each horrifying school shooting of the past few years, the shock and grief were followed by questions: How could the young shooters have gone so wrong? What turned their blood so cold? Is it possible that these kids seemed just as normal to their parents as our kids seem to us?

You won't get all the answers from 'The Killer at Thurston High,' but you will see a very compelling film. ...This film is truly haunting."

The Oregonian  (Portland)  Ted Mahar

"...The engrossing 90-minute film begins and ends with nervous, kinetic montages. In between, it sticks to the growing ordeal of the Kinkel family. Now, of course, the outcome can only seem inevitable, like Pearl Harbor, the Titanic and other disasters. The parents' misjudgments and groundless hopes seem stepping-stones on the path of doom.

But two commentators offer moderating views. Richard Bushnell, a Kinkel family friend who was also Kip's academic counselor, says, 'Any one of 1,400 students could do the same thing that Kip did. Kids are learning that it could happen any time, any place, by nice kids. Kip was respected. He had friends. He was liked. It can happen.' "

The Boston Herald Monica Collins

"... The story of Kip Kinkel is the saga of an all-American kid who lost his soul somewhere in a privileged childhood.

The meticulously wrought nonfiction film, narrated by journalist Peter Boyer, traces the demise of the Kinkel family and Kip's descent into hell. It is a gripping, remarkable document--a testament to an American family gone hopelessly haywire. ..."

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