StMU Research Scholars

“The Voices Made Me Do It”: The Kipland Kinkel Case

When Adam Pearse walked into school on May 21, 1998, he happened to bump into his friend Kipland Kinkel. It wasn’t until Kipland turned around that Adam recognized him. When Kipland faced him, he gave him a warning—he told Adam to leave school because something bad was about to happen. When Adam asked what Kipland was going to do, Kipland didn’t respond; instead, Kipland turned around to face the school, with no emotion on his face, and shot Ben Walker in the head.1

On the morning of May 21, 1998, fifteen-year-old Kipland got dressed for school, just as he would for any other day. However, this day was not an ordinary day. He dressed in cargo pants, which he used to hide a semi-automatic pistol, as well as the 9mm Glock that he took from his dad. He taped two bullets to his chest, the tape forming an “X” on his chest, just before putting his shirt on. He then taped a hunting knife to his ankle and put on a light brown trench coat. Under this coat, he hid a semi-automatic rifle. He got into his mother’s Ford Expedition and drove to Thurston High School, parking down the street from the school at 7:45 am.2

Growing up, Kipland Kinkel was constantly in the shadow of his older sister Kristin Kinkel. His older sister was seen as the golden child; she was top of her class, earning herself a full scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University. But Kipland had had a difficult time learning from a very young age, making him feel inadequate, as if he was the family disappointment.3 Growing up, Kipland always had a great relationship with his mother Faith Kinkel. However, his relationship with his father, Bill Kinkel, was more strained, due to his father viewing Kipland as “a bad kid with bad habits.” Both of his parents were language teachers for the local community college, which only pressured Kipland more when it came to his education.4

At the age of twelve, Kipland began to hear voices. The first time was after he got off the bus one day after school. He described three different voices that worked together to degrade him and tell him to hurt people. He did not disclose this to anyone, not even to his psychologist, in fear that he would be seen as a freak. Although he had his own theories on where these voices came from—punishment from God, or maybe from the Devil—Kipland finally settled on the idea that Disney planted a chip in his brain and that the voices were coming from this chip. Kipland then came up with a plan to get this chip removed. This plan involved going into the military, and eventually working his way into the CIA to demand that they remove this chip that was in his brain.5

Kipland’s parents started to become concerned about their son’s fascination with guns and violence. According to Kristin Kinkel, their family did not tolerate violence in their household, but she recalled Kipland being “interested in guns from as far as [she] can remember.”6 This fascination was concerning to the point where they even disconnected the cable when they couldn’t monitor what he was watching. After hearing the voices, he had the idea that he would be able to protect himself with a gun. He became obsessed with reading about making bombs and with foreign invaders, and he began to question whether our government would be able to protect us in the event of an invasion.7

Bill and Faith Kinkel, in an undated photo outside their rustic house in rural Springfield. | Courtesy of Joe Leong

After asking his parents for a BB gun and knife, he eventually began asking for a real gun. Bill confided in his friend Denny Sperry, saying that he and Faith didn’t know what to do; they feared if they said no to his request, it would only make him want the gun more. Denny advised Bill that it would be best to get his son the gun and that they could use it as a bonding experience. Bill and Faith gave Kipland a rifle on his twelfth birthday. Even though the Kinkels did not approve of violence, Bill took this as an opportunity to bond with his son. Bill attended gun safety classes with Kipland with the idea that this was just a phase he was going through, and that gun safety classes would help to get it out of his system. Instead, it was adding fuel to the fire. Kipland began asking for a semi-automatic Glock. To the surprise of all their friends, Bill and Faith bought it for him. Bill, however, had set down some ground rules: 1) Kipland had to pay off the gun himself, 2) The gun would need to be locked up at all times, and 3) Kipland could only use the guns with his dad.8

Kipland’s troubles grew in January 1997 when Kipland was in the 8th grade. He and his friends got in trouble for throwing rocks off a highway overpass during a trip with his friends. After one of the rocks hit a car below, the boys ran back to their motel, which is where Kipland and his friend were later arrested. Later that year, he was caught shoplifting CDs from Target. His parents’ concern grew as he was getting into more and more trouble, and they worried that he was beginning to run in the wrong crowd. They began to search his room. That is when they found all the materials that he would need to make a bomb. These incidents— coupled with the trouble Kipland has been getting into—prompted Faith to put Kipland into therapy. Faith was hoping that therapy could teach Kipland how to deal with his anger issues. Bill, however, did not have much faith in therapy; he believed they were quacks. Kipland was seen by Psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Hicks for nine sessions. In these sessions, he was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder that could be bringing on his anger. However, Dr. Hicks stated that Kipland had “no evidence of delusional thinking or other thought disorder symptoms.” He was then prescribed Prozac for his depression. Kipland was consistent in taking his medication for three months, ending when the prescription ran out. After those nine sessions it was determined that Kipland didn’t need to come to his sessions anymore, due to him making significant progress. Faith and Bill were hopeful that this would be the end of Kipland’s anger issues and obsession with violence.9

Those hopes were soon crushed in April 1998, when Kipland’s teachers voiced that they were becoming more concerned with his behavior. Kipland’s Spanish teacher reportedly expressed her concern to his parents after he wrote at the top of his Spanish homework, “I will hunt you down and put a hole in your head…” His parents responded that they were aware of their son’s behavior, but they advised the school that they had it under control. However, on April 24, 1998, the voices became too much. Kipland had an outburst in the middle of his English class, yelling “God damn this voice in my head.” Kipland was reprimanded for using foul language, but he was not questioned about the voices that he was referring to.10

The “respect sheet” Kinkel was asked to fill out after swearing in class about the voices in his head

With Kipland’s behavior not improving, Bill began threatening that he would take away Kipland’s weapons. Bill stayed true to his word. With Kipland’s poor behavior in class, Bill confiscated Kipland’s weapons, hiding them away in his room. Kipland told his friends at school that his dad was taking away his gun and that he needed another. He was determined to get another weapon, convinced that he needed it to protect himself. His friend Korey Ewert gave Kipland a call later that night, telling Kipland to bring $110 to school the next day. Korey was planning on selling a gun that was stolen from Scott Keeney, a father of a mutual friend. On May 20, 1998, Kipland brought the money to school the next day and purchased the gun, which was loaded with a 9-round clip. Putting it in his locker, Kipland went about his school day feeling relieved that he now had a weapon to protect himself. But that relief was short-lived. Scott Keeney filed a report stating that he believed one of his son’s friends stole his gun. Detective Warthen happened to be nearby and stopped by the school to investigate. He questioned a few students who tipped him off that Kipland had just paid $110 for a gun. He began making his way to Kipland, who after being patted down, quickly admitted to having the gun in his locker. He told Detective Warthen “Well, I’m going to be square with you guys. The gun’s in my locker.”11

With the gun in police custody, Kipland and his friend were put into handcuffs and taken to the police station. Kipland began to panic. This gun was supposed to be his protection and now it was gone. Detective Warthen then called Bill, informing him that Kipland had just been arrested for being in possession of a stolen firearm and was facing a felony charge. Bill was in shock and drove down to the police station to pick up his son. Bill was filled with disappointment. Not only was Kipland suspended from school and facing a possible expulsion, but he had also just been arrested and may receive a felony charge. During the car ride home, they stopped off at Burger King to get something to eat. Bill left Kipland inside to eat alone telling Kipland that he was disgusted by him. Kipland, left alone with his thoughts, was joined by the voices, and these voices were louder than ever. The voices begin to tell him that he was a worthless disappointment and that he should just kill everyone. Unable to eat, Kipland threw away his uneaten burger away and waited a few minutes before joining his father in the car so as to not anger his dad more by showing that he had wasted his food.12

Kipland and his father arrive home around 3 pm and his father then told Kipland that if he didn’t get his act together, he would have no other choice but to send him to military school. This sent Kipland over the edge. He went to his room, wrestling with the voices telling him that he needed to kill his father. He was ashamed of the embarrassment he brought onto his family. Kipland wanted to die. The voices told Kipland that he had no other choice but to kill everyone. This scared Kipland, as the voices never told him that he didn’t have a choice before. These voices told him that if he killed his parents then he could kill himself. This thought brought a sense of relief to Kipland. Death. He wanted it all to end. Kipland sat in his room for a moment with the voices telling him to get his gun and shoot his dad. He heard the voices say this as if on repeat. It played like a song on a carousel in his head before he got up, grabbed his hidden gun and rifle from the attic, and headed back downstairs while the mantra of the third voice was repeating, “You have to kill him, shoot him.”13

Downstairs he saw his father sitting at the table with his back turned to him and his head in his hands. With the phrase “Kill him, Shoot him. You have no choice” playing louder than ever, Kipland aimed the rifle at the back of his father’s head and pulled the trigger. The voices, demanding that he kill his father, quickly turned into the voices degrading Kipland again, calling him stupid and telling him to look at what he’d just done. Realizing what just happened, Kipland began to move his dad into the bathroom, covering him with a sheet. Kipland’s dad received multiple calls from worried students and coworkers due to him missing class. Kipland answered the phone calls, telling everyone that his dad was unavailable due to “family problems.” Kipland then waited at the top of the garage stairs for his mom to come home. She finally pulled into the garage around 6 pm. He aimed the gun at his mother and told her that he loved her before pulling the trigger. He shot her twice in the back of the head, three times in her face, and once in the heart before covering her up with a sheet before going back into the main house. The voices returned, telling him that now he must go to the school and kill everyone. Kipland didn’t sleep that night. He instead stayed awake trying to convince the voices to not make him kill other people. During this time, Kipland put the gun to his head but was unable to pull the trigger.14

A memorial to students killed in the Thurston High School shooting on May 21, 1998. | Courtesy of Conrad Wilson/ OPB

The next morning, May 21, 1998, Kipland turned on a song from the movie Romeo and Juliet, and began getting ready for school. He wore the same clothes as the day before, the only difference being the light brown trench coat that he put on. He filled a gym bag with his extra ammunition and put his Glock and 9mm into the waistband of his cargo pants. He got into his mom’s Ford Expedition and drove alone for the first time to Thurston High School. Parking the car down the street from the school, he walked to the building. Before walking into school, he bumped into his friend Adam, who didn’t recognize Kipland until he turned around. Kipland gave Adam a warning to leave school because something bad was about to happen. Adam was confused, asking what Kipland meant by that and asking what he was going to do. Kipland didn’t answer him; instead, he turned around walking further into the school with his rifle in his hands and without aiming at anyone shot off 2 shots, shooting Ben Walker in the head. The students tried to take cover, running outside exclaiming “Kips got a gun! Kips got a gun!” but Kipland was unrelenting. With a blank expression, he entered the school’s cafeteria filled with more than two-hundred students, and he began firing off his remaining rounds, shooting and killing Mikael Nickauson, while injuring twenty-five others.15

Just as Kinkel put his rifle to the forehead of a girl laying on the floor, he pulled the trigger three times causing the gun to dry fire. He realized that his rifle ran out of bullets, so he began to reload. Before finishing his reload, he was tackled to the ground by wrestler Jacob Ryker, who had just been shot in the lung a few moments earlier. Jacob was filled with rage after witnessing the murder of his friend Mikael and seeing many others injured, including his girlfriend. He was determined to not let other people get hurt. While they struggled on the ground. Kipland pulled out the 9mm that he had in his waistband. Jacob struggled to get the gun away from him. Kipland aimed the gun at Jacob’s face, but it only grazed the knuckle of Jacobs index finger.16 Jacob was then joined by other students, including his younger brother and the wrestling coach to help subdue Kipland. While they waited for the police to arrive, Kipland begged them to kill him, saying, “Just shoot me, shoot me now.”17

The police arrived at the school, and the students begin to release him, but not before one of these students stood up and punched Kipland in the face. Detective Jones directed Detective Warthen to take Kipland to the station. Detective Warthen sat Kipland down in an interview room, stepping away to set up the tape recorder for Kipland’s confession. This is when Kipland remembers that he still had his knife taped to his leg. He began to move his legs through the cuffs, getting the knife from his leg, waiting for the Detective to return. Once Warthen was in the room, Kipland began to lunge at him, knife in hand, pleading for them to kill him, “Just kill me, just shoot me!” Kipland was quickly pepper-sprayed, and his weapon fell to the table. After being calmed down, Warthen sat Kipland down. Then he confessed to the murder of his parents and the school shooting, saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My head just doesn’t work right.”18

Two girls holding flowers walk along the wall of Thurston High School, serving as a temporary memorial, two days after the shooting. | 23 May 1998 | Courtesy of Hector Mata

Kipland was later arraigned and charged with 4 counts of aggravated murder, 26 counts of attempted aggravated murder, 24 counts of assault with a firearm in the first and second degree, and 4 counts charging theft and weapons offenses. In July 1999 before the trial, Kipland’s attorneys instructed him to stop taking the medication given to him in the youth correctional facility, so they can get an accurate neurological assessment of his mental condition. He was advised to resume his medication in September 1999. Experts agreed that Kipland was suffering from schizophrenia and depression. Kipland’s attorney and the State began meeting in an attempt to lessen the charges against Kipland. They eventually reached an agreement where Kipland would plead guilty to 4 counts of murder and 25 counts of attempted murder, while also pleading no contest to 1 charge of attempted murder. The remaining charges were to be dismissed. This plea allowed Kipland to be sentenced to less time in comparison to the insanity plea that his defense team originally planned on presenting, and it prevented his case from going to trial, where they were positive he would receive a harsher sentence.19

The hearing began on November 2, 1999, where several experts testified to Kipland’s mental state without medication. Some of the experts included pediatric neurologist Dr. Richard Konkol, who testified that he believed that Kipland was suffering from “damage in the parietal, prefrontal and temporal lobes of his brain.” This damage could make him susceptible to a psychotic break. Child psychologist, Dr. Orin Bolstad testified that Kipland’s condition was not curable, but rather was treatable and that with the proper medication, Kipland’s mental illnesses could be managed. The judge sentenced Kipland to 111 years and 8 months.20 Many were pleased with this ruling; after the hearing, Kent Mortimer, an assistant district attorney who was also the leading prosecutor on the case said, “We had all along been asking for a sentence where he would die in prison.”21 Many people were skeptical of this sentencing as they saw it as “throwing away a life without regard for the possibility that Kinkel could change or that the circumstances that led to this could be mediated.”22

Almost 24 years later, Kipland is attempting to make the argument that at the time of the plea deal, he had only restarted his antipsychotic medications two days prior after only stopping his medication at the instruction of his attorneys, stating that due to this fact, he was not in the correct state of mind to make such a decision. He is also claiming that he was not evaluated for his mental competency before accepting his plea deal. Finally, he argued that the 111-year sentence goes against his 8th amendment right against “Cruel and Unusual Punishment.” He believes this amendment was violated due to the court not considering his age and mitigating factors before committing him to a life sentence. The court proceedings appealing these claims is ongoing.23

Kipland has since earned a college degree and works as an electrician for the prison. He has become a certified yoga instructor and is currently advocating for criminal justice reform. After hearing about the Columbine shooting that occurred just a year after the Thurston High School shooting, Kipland was distraught, afraid that he had been the inspiration behind it. After some trial and error with his dosages, Kipland has been consistent with his medications and says he hardly hears the voices anymore; when he does hear them, they’re more of a “gargling noise.” Kipland is hopeful that the Supreme Court’s shift on juvenile justice will benefit him in the future in his attempt to obtain a lighter sentencing.24

Kipland Kinkel’s story is one of many where a troubled child becomes a troubled teen. There were many occasions where help may have not been directly asked for, but there were certainly times when he was crying for help. For example, when he had his outburst in class and was reprimanded for his language and not questioned about the voices he was referring to. It’s important to recognize the signs of deteriorating mental health, to help prevent events such as this from occurring.

  1. The Killer at Thurston High | FRONTLINE, 2001, https://www.thirteen.org/programs/frontline/frontline-killer-thurston-high/.
  2. The Killer at Thurston High | FRONTLINE, 2001, https://www.thirteen.org/programs/frontline/frontline-killer-thurston-high/.
  3. Frank M. Lachmann, “Violations of Expectations in Creativity and Perversion,” Psychoanalytic Inquiry 26, no. 3 (January 6, 2006): 9.
  4. The Killer at Thurston High | FRONTLINE, 2001, https://www.thirteen.org/programs/frontline/frontline-killer-thurston-high/.
  5. Jessica Schulberg, “Kip Kinkel Is Ready To Speak,” HuffPost (website), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kip-kinkel-is-ready-to-speak_n_60abd623e4b0a2568315c62d.
  6. The Killer at Thurston High | FRONTLINE, 2001, https://www.thirteen.org/programs/frontline/frontline-killer-thurston-high/.
  7. Jessica Schulberg, “Kip Kinkel Is Ready To Speak,” HuffPost (website), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kip-kinkel-is-ready-to-speak_n_60abd623e4b0a2568315c62d.
  8. The Killer at Thurston High | FRONTLINE, 2001, https://www.thirteen.org/programs/frontline/frontline-killer-thurston-high/.
  9. Jessica Schulberg, “Kip Kinkel Is Ready To Speak,” HuffPost (website), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kip-kinkel-is-ready-to-speak_n_60abd623e4b0a2568315c62d.
  10. Elisa Swanson, “Killers Start Sad and Crazy: Mental Illness and the Betrayal of Kipland Kinkel Comment,” Oregon Law Review 79, no. 4 (2000): 1084.
  11. The Killer at Thurston High | FRONTLINE, 2001, https://www.thirteen.org/programs/frontline/frontline-killer-thurston-high/.
  12. Elisa Swanson, “Killers Start Sad and Crazy: Mental Illness and the Betrayal of Kipland Kinkel Comment,” Oregon Law Review 79, no. 4 (2000): 1081–1120.
  13. Jessica Schulberg, “Kip Kinkel Is Ready To Speak,” HuffPost (website), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kip-kinkel-is-ready-to-speak_n_60abd623e4b0a2568315c62d.
  14. Jessica Schulberg, “Kip Kinkel Is Ready To Speak,” HuffPost (website), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kip-kinkel-is-ready-to-speak_n_60abd623e4b0a2568315c62d.
  15. The Killer at Thurston High | FRONTLINE, 2001, https://www.thirteen.org/programs/frontline/frontline-killer-thurston-high/.
  16. JERE LONGMAN, “Wounded Teen-Ager Is Called a Hero,” New York Times, 1998, sec. National Report.
  17. Sam Howe Verhovek, “Teenager To Spend Life in Prison For Shootings,” New York Times, November 11, 1999, Late Edition (East Coast) edition, 431290201, U.S. Major Dailies.
  18. Jessica Schulberg, “Kip Kinkel Is Ready To Speak,” HuffPost (website), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kip-kinkel-is-ready-to-speak_n_60abd623e4b0a2568315c62d.
  19. “United States Courts Opinions: UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF OREGON: KIPLAND KINKEL, Petitioner, v. GERALD LONG, Superintendent, Oregon State Correctional Institution, Respondent,” accessed February 1, 2022, 3-4.
  20. “United States Courts Opinions: UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF OREGON: KIPLAND KINKEL, Petitioner, v. GERALD LONG, Superintendent, Oregon State Correctional Institution, Respondent,” accessed February 1, 2022, 4-8.
  21. Sam Howe Verhovek, “Teenager To Spend Life in Prison For Shootings,” New York Times, November 11, 1999, Late Edition (East Coast) edition, 431290201, U.S. Major Dailies.
  22.  Nadya Labi and Todd Murphy, “Locking Up The Voices,” Time International (Canada Edition) 154, no. 21 (November 26, 1999).
  23. “United States Courts Opinions: UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF OREGON: KIPLAND KINKEL, Petitioner, v. GERALD LONG, Superintendent, Oregon State Correctional Institution, Respondent,” accessed February 1, 2022, 15-19.
  24. Jessica Schulberg, “Kip Kinkel Is Ready To Speak,” HuffPost (website), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kip-kinkel-is-ready-to-speak_n_60abd623e4b0a2568315c62d.

46 Responses

  1. This is a difficult-to-read emotional narrative. Mental illness schizophrenia is incredibly challenging to deal with. Your surroundings can have a significant impact on your identity, mental health, and coping mechanisms. This catastrophe might have been prevented if individuals had paid attention to the warning indicators. This is an excellent illustration of how regular therapy is necessary for it to be effective. Even if everything is going well at the time, people need to keep going to therapy.

  2. I liked your article. While it is true that Kipland did something terrible, he was not in his right state of mind and had pleaded for help the best he could. This case leaves a valuable lesson about reading the signs, but also exposes a problematic angle, or the dark side, of certain mental illnesses, because ’till what point can he be forgiven for his actions, and in doing so where would be the justice for the families of those children that were killed? I understand how their grieving could turn their search for justice more into revenge, and why they would perceive a shortening in Kipland’s sentence as a betrayal. It is very complicated.

  3. I am astonished on how well written this article was and the information I gathered while reading throughout this article. I am majoring in Criminal Justice, which is why this article piqued my interest; I am glad that I took the time to read this passage because I learn the importance of mental health and the affect it can have on those with this issue. The Kipland Kinkel Case was such an interesting case that help me understand why some people do unimaginable things to others.

  4. This a moving story that is hard to read. Schizophrenia is mental disorder that is very difficult to live with. Your environment can play such a big role in who you are, your mental health, and how you cope with things. If people had noticed the warning signs, this tragedy could have been avoided. This is also a great example of how therapy only works if it is consistent. People need to continue to attend therapy even if everything is fine at the time (or seems that way).

  5. Since I’m studying psychology, I was interested by this article. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thoughts, speech and behavior. I’m curious as how he got the disorder though, perhaps stress was a main factor? Either way, this is a good article, and I like the structure of it as well.

  6. I really enjoyed the article and how it focused on the mere subject and importance of mental health and the psychological impact your environment has in your life. now although there may not be reason behind the “madness” its important to understand that many people struggle with mental illness and i think this article did a great job in showcasing what that looks like from and outside perspective. Being a psychology major I can really appreciate the tone of the article and how it intruiged my thought process throughout reading.

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