the killer at thurston high
An Interview with Kristin Kinkel

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Kristin Kinkel is Kip's older sister. She discusses what it was like growing up with her parents and brother, her parents' growing concerns about Kip, and the reasons why no one in the family saw any warning signs about what was coming.
Could you describe your mom and dad for people who won't be able to know them?

They were so positive, so happy. They loved life so much. They loved other people. My mom was the type of person who would just do anything for anyone. She was a people pleaser, that's what she used to call herself, "Oh, I'm just a people pleaser." She would always put other people first. Sometimes she suffered for that, because the needs of others were met before hers.

My dad was loved being around other people. He loved having fun, he loved tennis, he loved sailing, he loved outdoor stuff. He got so much pleasure from doing things, being around people, relating to people, and telling jokes. He had the most amazing laugh. Everybody that knows him knows him by his laugh. ...

They loved to travel, they respected the world, they respected other cultures; they wanted to learn about them. They just had so much to give ...

Tell me about the age difference.

My brother was born in August, and then I turned six that next December. So I was five when he was born.

So you had five years to yourself and then along comes Kip. Tell me what that means.

kristen kinkel I still actually remember the day when my mom told us she was pregnant. We have this sunken area in our house, where we have the fireplace. They used to call it "the conversation pit," where everybody would sit around by the fire and talk. She gathered the whole family there, Grandma, Grandpa, and everybody, and sat them all down. She stood up and looked at me and she said, "Kristen, you're going to have a little brother." I was all excited for a while, and everyone, of course, was happy. I think I may have been a little bit nervous because she was on the verge of being too old. I want to say she was 42.

But I remember being really excited, and really proud, and telling everybody I was going to have a little brother. And then he came. And I said, "Hey, where did all the attention go? I'm used to getting all that stuff."

Tell us about Spain. Why was the family there?

I can say with confidence ... until that day, there was nothing that could make us believe that something of this scale was possible.  There was no way we could have seen something this huge coming. My father took a sabbatical from Thurston. I turned ten when I was over there, so when we started the trip, I was nine. ... We settled in the south of Spain, in Seville, and my dad started taking classes at the university. My brother went to a kind of preschool. I would have gone into the fifth grade that fall. But because the only teacher in the school that spoke any English was the third-grade teacher, I went into the third grade. ... I had a wonderful year. I picked up Spanish really quickly, and made a lot of friends. I still keep in touch with friends there. Of all of us, I think I had the best year, and my father ranked next. He learned so much, and got so much material and knowledge to bring back. And I think my brother probably had the worst time. There was a bully at his school. I remember Kip coming home, and not being very happy with this big bully. And he was really frustrated that he had just mastered English, and then suddenly, he's in a place where it didn't work. That was frustrating for him. I was old enough to understand that this was a great experience, a one-time chance. I don't think he was old enough to be able to understand that.

Did your parents worry about that? Would they have felt bad about him being unhappy there?

Of course they were worried. They had such a respect for the knowledge and experience that we were going to have because of this year. But of course they were worried about the readjustment. I do not think they were worried that it was going to have long-term effects. ... Of course they were worried that it was going to be difficult-- but detrimental, no.

We know Kip has to repeat first grade. Tell me a little about that.

He was having an extremely hard time reading, writing, and spelling. At first, we thought maybe it was the Spanish thing, maybe it was the language and so on. But that's not true, and research will prove that. He was either in the third or fourth grade by the time they realized that he was dyslexic. In hindsight, of course, that was the problem.

Was he failing? Was he having tantrums, or bad behavior?

He would study for hours and not pass. In first grade, second grade, and third grade, I remember him studying for those spelling tests over and over. I never studied for spelling, and all he wanted to do was pass. And I used to make fun of his writing, because that's what big sisters do. He would confuse his 3s and his Es, and Bs and Ds. He'd write them wrong, and I used to make fun of him, "Ha, ha, ha, you messed up here."

I wouldn't say he had tantrums and bad behavior. But it was really frustrating for him, as it would be for anyone. Of course he felt bad about himself, because he didn't understand what was wrong with him. If everybody else in his family was so good at it, why couldn't he be good at it, too? Then he got his answer. ...

Do you think Kip felt compared to you in some way that he couldn't meet or live up to?

I think all second children are compared. I'm sure Kip felt compared. My parents made a huge effort not to compare us. I'm sure teachers and family compared us, and my parents did in their own little way, but they tried really hard not to let him be aware of it. Everybody's different.

My strengths were relating to people. I liked to talk. Languages, the humanities, and that kind of stuff were my strengths. I don't even know if I passed math. Math and science, blah, were hard. Those were his strengths. We focused a lot on his strengths and my strengths being different.

I tried to play basketball and volleyball; I was horrible. It took me a while to figure out what I was good at. Kip tried some football, tried some soccer, and wasn't really good at that. He got into Kempo karate, and was really good at that. That was one of his strengths. ...

What do you think karate gave him?

What it does for everyone is to give confidence in your ability to be somewhat active, athletic, and to be able to do something. He was so good at it, so it gave him confidence, knowing that he was good at something. He had tried football and soccer and baseball, and maybe t-ball. Those just weren't quite his thing. He tried tennis. Nothing was really quite for him. But he was exceptionally good at karate, and that had to have been a positive thing. For a while, at least, he really enjoyed going, and really looked forward to it, and came home and was excited and went to all the tournaments. My mom had his certificates plastered all over the house, First Place this, and ribbons and trophies. That was a big thing for us, and although my mom was so anti-violence, she supported him so completely, because it was such a positive thing for him. It really gave him something to be excited about, something to have confidence in, something to do. And for boys, especially at that age, it is so important to have something that you are good at, something to do, to think about.

What was your role in the family?

I often saw myself as a mediator between my parents and my brother. My parents were getting older, in their mid-50s, when he was in middle school. There's a huge generation gap there. It's hard enough to be young and able to remember middle school, and deal with that age son. When they went to school, kids were so different, and it was such a long time ago. Societal rules were different, let alone parental rules. They didn't know.

If he did some awful little thing, I found myself saying, "Remember my friend, so-and-so, that you respect, and like, and you think it's good when I spend time with him-- he's done something worse than what Kip just did. So settle down, relax, and think about it, think about the students you teach. What he did was not that bad."

The same thing for Kip. He'd say, "They don't understand this and that." I think what all kids want is somebody right in the middle to be able to tell both sides, to be able to explain where the parents are coming from to Kip, and explain where Kip is coming from to the parents.

When I left, they didn't have that, and I'm sure it was harder. When I would call, he would usually answer the phone, and we'd talk for a while and then I'd talk to mom or dad, but it just wasn't the same.

Do you think he was lonely?

I think he was lonely as far as having people his own age, people understanding how this generation is, understanding of the world as it is now. He needed more of that. Living where we did is hard. For me it wasn't so hard. At the beginning we had tons of kids my age, and a bit older. I had friends all over the place. I could escape whenever I wanted to, and spend the night at this person's house, right next door. When it takes 15 or 20 minutes to get to a friend's house and you are depending on your parents or their parents to drive you, you don't get it as much.

He probably was lonely and needing more kids his age to spend more time with. That probably had something to do with it. ...

His middle school years are characterized by getting into trouble with shoplifting, and mail-ordering the bomb stuff.

I heard from somebody who heard from somebody that he and a group of friends ordered a book about building bombs. In fact, I think he even did a report using that book for school. Just because you order a book... I don't know what to say about that. He was in trouble one time for shoplifting. He was with the person who was taking things. I think he had a couple of CDs. But the person he was with had all the merchandise.

Was there a time when your parents were concerned that he was in trouble, or heading down a bad path?

He had some friends who weren't the best-quality people. My parents were worried about his friends, as a lot of parents are. He did some stupid things. I did some stupid things. If they had caught a lot of things that I did, I would have been in not as much trouble as he was, but more than I was. I just knew how to not get caught. ...

My sense of their parenting style is how you and Kip cared very much about earning their respect and approval, and they treated you that way. Was that an essential part of them as parents?

I am trying to think where to start. All the punishment they ever really needed was for us to know that we would disappoint them. I would like to learn how they did that, because I think it is the best way of raising your children. I believe we both have a real strong sense of right and wrong.

So it mattered to you and to Kip?

It really mattered. It more than mattered-- it was the most important thing. Being grounded was much easier punishment than knowing that they didn't trust us any more. It was easier to have something taken away, like a TV show or telephone privileges. It wasn't the fact that the privilege was taken away. It was the fact that they had to take things away because we did something wrong. And I really don't know how they instilled that in us, but I think it was their general respect of other people, and their relationship with each other, their friends, and with their parents.

So disappointing them would have been unbearable at some point for both of you.

I think so. It was for me. That was the last thing I wanted to do, to disappoint them, to have them know that I did something wrong.

There seemed to be a bad period for Kip around sixth or seventh grade. He had an interest in bombs, there was the shoplifting, and a suspension from school for kicking a boy in the head. He's homeschooled for a while. What were they struggling with? Did they see their son in trouble?

Yes, they were worried about him. He was doing things that they didn't approve of. He was doing things and interested in things that could potentially be really damaging. My mother was really worried. My father was worried. I wasn't really worried. I compared him to my friends, and didn't see much difference. I wasn't aware that he kicked someone in the head. I cannot see him doing that. I don't know what to say other than, yes, they were both really worried. They were doing everything that they knew how. They were giving him tough love, they were giving him unconditional love, they were having him see a psychologist, they were setting rules. They were doing absolutely everything a parent is able to do. And they were hoping and praying that it would help.

Do you think they were lost, or did they get confused?

Of course. When somebody you love so much is on a troubled path, there are different ways to deal with it. They tried all of them. They tried standing in the road and saying, "You're not passing this, you have to go around on a good path." It didn't work. They tried saying, "We accept everything, we love you, educate yourself, educate us, prove to us that you can do this the intelligent way, the educated way, and that will take you on a good path." Okay, that's not working either, let's get some professional help. That has to help. Nothing helped, nothing took him off that path. ... They really believed that once he matured a little, got some different friends, and got into high school, that things would turn around and get better.

Why did they think that?

For me, for most people I know, and for most teachers I know that teach that age, the middle school years are the most impossible years of people's lives. Your body's doing things you don't want it to do. Your brain and heart are doing things. You don't understand anything, and you're angry. You're starting to test the boundaries with your parents, your older sister's off doing all these things, and why can't you? You want to be an adult, but yet you don't know how. It's a really hard part of your life, and I don't think there are any parents that know how to deal with kids at that age. ... It was probably worse than we thought. I don't think they thought this was the beginning of something horrible, and Kip is this awful person, and we have to stop him before he goes down. They felt that, with enough love, time, patience and enough education about his interests that they didn't approve of, things would be okay.

Some people would just say they were in denial over his troubles, that they were too private, and wouldn't have told anybody...

Then why did they go to a psychologist? And why didn't that psychologist say, "Kip is doing so much better, you can take him off the Prozac?"

What did she tell you about it?

At first, my mom was the one who said this is what we need, we should do this. My dad wasn't too excited about it. He felt that psychologists were like chiropractors, in the sense that they may not be as heavily needed as we think. But the changes that Kip made, the results, changed his mind. He was much more accepting after they started going. ...

How concerned were they were about his interest in guns and making bombs?

They were both really, really concerned about it. He had been interested since he was a little boy. He was not allowed to have little soldiers, or any kind of toy that had any kind of violent anything. ... We weren't allowed to watch "Bugs Bunny" because it was too violent. Violence in our house was a huge no-no.

He wasn't interested in violence. He was interested in guns--how they worked, what made them have the power that they have. ... I know he wasn't interested in hurting anybody with it. He even told me that his goal was to be on the bomb squad. After he graduated from high school and went on to college, he wanted to go into law enforcement. ...

What did your parents really think about the bombs?

My mom was extremely concerned, and that stemmed from her total fear and contempt for violence itself. My dad was concerned the entire time. But I believe they knew they were not going to be able to change him, they weren't going to be able to make him not interested in this. That was not possible. So what are your choices? You can ban it completely, and have him sneak around behind your back, which he ended up doing. Or you can educate him about it, and hope and pray that he uses it wisely, like many, many people in this community do. ...

They said no over and over. And they probably realized that saying no wasn't helping the problem. Some people would argue that saying no so much drove him to it, fueled his interest. But then some people argue that they should have kept saying no. What are they going to do? They did what they knew was best. They consulted experts. They did everything, and more, that they knew how to do. ...

Let's discuss your parents' state of mind, the nature of their concern. What are they doing and feeling about their son around eighth, ninth grade?

My mom called me, very excited, telling me that Kip was doing so much better that the psychologist even said he could get off the medicine. A little bit later, the psychologist said, "You don't even have to come see me anymore, you're doing that much better." They thought they finally achieved this turnaround that they had been waiting for. They didn't believe he was going down. They believed he was going through some really tough times, and he was going to come out in the clear, and everything was going to be okay.

The last time I saw my family was March of 1998, a few months before it happened. Kip was the most positive, the most healthy, the most normal that I had ever seen him. So in March of 1998, my mom and I went up to Seattle for a big convention in Teaching English as Second or Other Language. My mom and I went up there to share the hotel and convention expenses. We both went to a few classes, and got a lot out of it.

After it was over, my father and my brother came up to visit. We spent the weekend in Seattle, and then we went out for a family vacation to the Crystal Mountain ski resort. We didn't ski because the weather wasn't so good. So we just spent a couple of days together.

I didn't know it was going to be the last time I saw them. But it was a wonderful last time, and Kip was so great.

How had he changed?

He was more positive, he was funny. He would make jokes, and was extremely polite. He had a self-confidence I hadn't seen before. He would enter into all our conversations and add decent input. It was one of the first times he really felt like he was just a real important part of all of our conversations, and of our thoughts, and of our family. He seemed so happy, positive, and healthy. He didn't mention guns or bombs at all. ...

I could tell that he was excited, that he had the understanding and the knowledge to talk about those kinds of things. It was fun. He did things like, throughout the weekend, he would run ahead and open the door for us. And at the restaurant, they set the pitcher of water on the table, and he picked up and poured everybody's glass, and made sure that when someone's was half-empty, he would fill it back up. Little things like that showed that he was thinking about the family; he was thinking about us. He was trying to make things better for us, and that was just a really neat thing to see. ... My roommates remember me going back and saying, "My brother is doing so much better. My family is doing so much better."

Tell me about the day you heard about what Kip had done.

It was about 7:00 a.m. in Hawaii. I get a phone call from my friend, Jared. He wakes me up, so I'm not real happy, but I say hello, and there's this small voice on the other end that just says "Hi." I say, "What's up, what's going on, why are you calling me so early?" He said, "I have some bad news." I said, "Well, tell me."

There's a long pause. He obviously didn't know what to say. He said, "Well, I'm not sure about it, so I'll call you back in a half-hour." Click. So I thought, goofball.

I started to go back to sleep. Then I started thinking, and my stomach started getting icky, and I said, this is really strange, I'm going to call my mom and dad. So I called. The beep on their answering machine was really long, and I even said on the message tape, "That's kind of weird. The beep on your tape is super long, like lots of people have called you. Jared called me and said he had some bad news, something happened, and I'm just calling to make sure it's not you guys." Hang up.

Half an hour later, another friend calls, and she says, "I have some bad news. There has been a shooting at Thurston." Immediately I think, oh, it has something to do with drugs, or gangs, or something. I'm not concerned, not thinking anything, and we talk for a little while. She's watching the news while she's telling me, so she's giving me little bits of information, but none that would hint that Kip had done this.

Finally I said, "Oh, my gosh, is Kip hurt? Is that why you're calling me, is Kip hurt?" She said, "Well, Kip was involved." I said, "Oh, my gosh, tell me more, tell me more." She said, "Well, I don't know anymore. I'm watching the news right now. I'll call you back." Click.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Then a third friend calls, probably a good 45 minutes later, from New York City. By this time I'm irritated, frustrated, and impatient. Why don't they just spit it out-- it can't be that bad. My friend says, "Have you heard?" I said, "Well, people are calling me, but they aren't telling me anything, just tell me." She couldn't say it, and she kept stuttering, "Well, uh, uh," and I finally got really angry, and I screamed at her "Why don't you just get it out, just spit it out, just tell me! Nothing's worse than this, just tell me!"

So she just spit it all out and she said, "Your brother killed your parents and then he shot a bunch of people at Thurston High School." I said, "What?" and I immediately started crying. Tears were running, but I hadn't gotten it in here yet, in my stomach yet. I said, "You've got to be lying. There's no way. You're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong."

Then it started hitting me. My roommate came in because I was kind of breaking down, and she tried to give me a hug. I remember pushing her away. I said to my friend, "No, I just don't believe this, there's no way. How can I find out that you're lying? How can I find out that you're not telling me the truth?" She said, "Call the Springfield Police." I said, "Okay, `bye." Click.

Dial, dial, dial. It took me about a half-hour to get through, and once I got through, I said, "My name is Kristin Kinkel. I'd like to know what's going on." This person said, "Um, hang on a second." Transferred to another person. "My name is Kristen Kinkel, I'd like to know what's going on." "Well, where do you live, Kristen? What's your full name? What are your parents'..." They asked me all these questions. Now I realize they did it to make sure that I was really who I was.

Transferred to another person. This person asked me a bunch of questions. I was transferred to four people. Finally I was speaking to a member of the sheriff's department, and I was really angry at that point. I said, "Why won't somebody just tell me what's going on? Is it true? What happened? Are my parents dead?" And she said, "Yes, they are."

Then I lost it. I remember I was on the phone, sitting under this little square table by the couch.

Then I asked her some questions, she asked me some questions, and there was nothing more she could do for me. I hung up the phone and turned the TV on, which I shouldn't have done. There on the TV was my house, with the helicopters flying all over the place, and the yellow police tape. Then the phone started ringing as people started finding out.

So you knew at this point that Kip had killed your parents. Did you know about the school?

I knew about the school, but I didn't know any details. The shock that my parents were dead and that my brother had done it, and that he hadn't stopped at that... I don't know how to describe it. It's still just too much. Now, more than a year later, I'm just barely starting to grieve my parents' deaths. I haven't come anywhere near to learning how to deal with the fact that my brother did it. And after that, I have to learn how to figure out how to deal with the fact that my brother did this to so many other people.

Overwhelming isn't the word. If there's a word bigger than overwhelming, that would be it. It was just so much and so big and everyone keeps telling me, "You're going to come through, you're going to be okay, there is a light," but it's too far away to see right now. It's going to be years before I'll even be able to feel it, to feel what happened. It's in my brain now. I can understand. I can vocalize, this is what happened, my brother did this, my parents are dead. I can say those kinds of things now, but I still haven't even begun to feel them. ...

What don't people understand about a loss like this?

People can understand the loss of parents. It is hard. And it is even harder for me to understand the loss of a family, a loss of your reality. Everything I knew to be true is not. Everything I had confidence in, if you do things a certain way, this will be the result-- to have that shattered is more than just a loss of people. It's a loss of my entire concept of everything. I feel like I have to re-learn how to live, and how to be, and how to love, because it is not just a loss of people, it is a loss of reality.

Is it even more complicated because your brother caused this loss?

Yes. I was talking to a friend about a loss of the parents, and he recently lost his father, and we were talking about how that feels. Then I started thinking that mine was worse and said, you know, it is not like it was a freak accident, or someone was in the wrong place at the right time. This was my brother. My blood did this, and that is such a hard thing to accept. I remember at first thinking, this is okay, because I am able to forgive and love the person who is responsible for this. That helped me get through this. Now I am feeling, like, I am related to the person who did this. My blood is in him. His blood is in me. And that is really tough. ...

What is it like for you to have your family life re-visited now?

I don't even have enough words. It is so frustrating and it is so unfair. I wish I had a better way of doing it, because it can't be the best way. You can't pick a family's life apart in a year or two, no matter how many people you have working on it, no matter how many pictures you look through, videotapes you watch, and conversations you listen to, or papers you read. You can't get an idea of what was really out there. Little details ... get blown out of proportion, and turn into meaning something when they really didn't. It is so frustrating to watch that happen, when you know that is just not the way it was. You can't describe the way it was. But you just have to believe the people that were there.

People want an answer.

Yes, I think it is human nature to want to know why, and they want an answer. ... People want to be able to distance themselves, because they don't want it to be possible. They don't want it to be able to happen to them or anyone they know. It is so unbelievable, that the only way to distance yourself, the only way to make yourself feel better about it, is to find a why and figure out how that why can never happen to you. But it just doesn't work that way. This situation was much too complex. ... It would be really nice if I could say that there is something you can do to have this not happen to you. If you do this and this and this, this will never happen, don't worry. But I can't say that. There is nothing you can do to make this not happen to you, and that is the scary thing. Because my parents did absolutely everything and more in their power to make this not happen. And it did anyway. ...

People who don't know your family, who don't know the Kinkels, might want to say, "They didn't see it coming," or "They missed the cues," or "They missed the warning signs," or, "Out of love and best intentions, they just missed it."

What would you say to people who stack up the events that way?

People can blame them, and people will blame them. People will blame the school. People will blame everything they can, except for themselves, to make themselves feel better. But if you really put yourself in our shoes, and you completely immerse yourself in our family, what else would you have done? There was a lot of life between those moments that you're going to list. And you get a bunch of bad times, and you may have a problem at the end of it. But you put 15 years of a family life in between those moments, and they don't stack up to a problem. If we could make lists about the bad things we've done, and stick them all next to each other, your kid might look a little bit like a problem too. But it just doesn't work like that in a family. ... You can't just look at the bad things. To really deal with the truth, you have to look at the whole picture.

In your mind, what would that truth ultimately be?

When I say "truth," I mean the reality of what our life was. I mean not taking things out of context, not picking a scene from this time and a scene from that time, putting them together, and equating that to a warning sign. It's almost impossible for me to ask someone else to do that, because they weren't there, but you have to realize that there was so much positive. There were so many good times that the bad times definitely didn't stick out as what he was. People are trying to figure out why, in hindsight. But the truth doesn't come from that.

So until that awful day, nobody would have seen it coming?

I can say with confidence: not something that huge. Until that day, there was nothing that could make us believe that something of this scale was possible. There was no way we could have seen something this huge coming.

Is it perhaps more terrifying?

Much more terrifying, for me, and for the people out there.

· Read Kristin's Letter to Judge Mattison

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