A man who killed his parents before shooting up his high school when he was a teen has given his first interview since the 1998 shooting, expressing regret over the impact of his actions.
Kip Kinkel, now 38, spoke exclusively with the Huffington Post over the course of 10 months via phone from Oregon State Correctional Institution, telling the outlet he feels “tremendous, tremendous shame and guilt.” He is serving a de facto life sentence at the medium-security prison for the murder of his parents and two classmates.
He was 15 when, on May 20, 1998, he shot and killed his parents one day prior to opening fire at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. In addition to killing two classmates, he wounded 25 others with a stolen gun he bought off a peer before his fellow students subdued and disarmed him in the school’s cafeteria. As the Huffington Post mentions, it was a time in which society was just beginning to wrestle with mass shootings as a trend. The shooting came a year prior to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, an incident Kinkel fears he inspired. Kinkel told the outlet that he sobbed after that shooting and that the voices in his head told him Columbine was his fault.
Kinkel said that he has been hearing voices since age 12, a side effect of then-undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia. Before the shooting, he said he believed that the Walt Disney Co. had implanted a microchip in his head.
The school shooter, who was depicted in the media at the time as a Marilyn Manson fan who dressed in black, was sentenced to 112 years without the possibility of parole. Kinkel's case is one of several flash points in the debate over juvenile justice. Kinkel is one of about 10,000 people nationwide serving life or life-equivalent sentences for crimes they committed when they were minors, the Huffington Post notes, further pointing out the U.S. is the only country that allows juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole.
Reformers want to end the practice, but opponents fear those efforts could result in offenders, like Kinkel, being freed.
After remaining silent for decades (he'd refused all previous interview requests, saying he didn’t want to further traumatize his victims and survivors), Kinkel told the Huffington Post that he now feels an obligation to speak out because of how his case affects juvenile justice reform.
“I have responsibility for the harm that I caused when I was 15," Kinkel told HuffPo. "But I also have responsibility for the harm that I am causing now as I’m 38 because of what I did at 15.”
Kinkel has been challenging his sentence and, in March, his attorneys filed a petition in federal court claiming that his sentence was unconstitutional.
“Sentencing a juvenile to die in prison because they suffer from a mental illness is a violation of the Eighth Amendment,” his lawyers wrote in that filing. They argue that his guilty plea was not voluntary and that he wasn’t in the right state of mind at the time.
Betina Lynn, who was shot in the foot by Kinkel and has permanent nerve damage as a result, told the Huffington Post the idea of him ever getting out is “literally terrifying.”
“Even now, more than 23 years later, I and many other survivors are still dealing with the fallout," Lynn said. "We are all serving life sentences right alongside him.”
In 2019, after the Oregon Legislature passed a measure to stop automatically referring teens to adult court for certain offenses, some expressed fear that Kinkel could be released.
“It doesn’t matter if he was 15,” Adam Walker, brother of Ben Walker, who was fatally shot by Kinkel. “The victims don’t get second chances. Why should the offenders?”
Kinkel, who has gotten a college degree behind bars, told the Huffington Post he doesn’t think about being released.
“I don’t allow myself to spend too much time thinking about that because I think that can actually bring more suffering,” he said.