The Kip Kinkel Story - and a Deeper Look.

by Gerald L. Rowles, Ph.D.

"IT HAS HAPPENED AGAIN, DEATH BY GUNFIRE AT ANOTHER SCHOOL IN THE UNITED STATES..." Thus began the PBS FRONTLINE examination of the Kip Kinkle tragedy. It went on, "some of us are raising killers in our homes".

The story develops, inviting the viewer to postulate a "dysfunctional family" and a child subjected to a "trail of psychic woundings", and then there is "but". A reversal of the initial postulation, and a new invitation into a "nurturing home, a comforting community, and loving parents recognized for their special way with children - by all accounts an ideal American family."

A neighbor recounts that the parents, Bill and Faith Kinkle, built their dreamhouse in what was "almost a recreation haven retreat", "a natural setting, quiet, there's animals" - a setting developed under the name Shangrila.

The narration and interviews are accompanied by a romantic, latino, soft and idyllic soundtrack.

Faith, a spanish teacher was "earnest and hardworking", possessing "a warmth in her that was exceptional." Frontline goes on; "If Faith was an excellent teacher, by all accounts, Bill was in a class by himself, a legend at the other Springfield High School, Thurston." He too was a spanish teacher.


At age four, Kip's parents decided to take a year-long sabbatical to Spain, rationalizing the potential stress for the four year-old. In the words of his older sister Kristen, "(they) gave so much weight to a cultural experience like that, that they believed that was going to outweigh the negative."

The FRONTLINE narrator apologizes for Kip's shortcomings: "Kristen had been an easy baby, Kip was cholicy and a bit of a handful. Kristen easily acclimated to Spain; for Kip, the adjustment was a challenge. A neighbor, relating the family's return, and the parents and older sister chattering away in Spanish, giggles about Kip's response - covering his ears, and saying "no more spanish, no more spanish" - and she concludes in a giggling chirp "Wow, it must have been hard for him."

They were "Perplexed and disappointed by Kip's performance", empathizes the narrator of Bill and Faith's response. Upon his entry into the first grade at school in Springfield, Kip's the sister says, "he was having an extremely hard time reading, writing and spelling." He was held back for a year by the parents. "That must be agonizing for them (the parents), because it's a small community, everybody knew each other at that little school, and to know that he's being held back because of reading, ah, just seemed really tough", empathizes the chirping neighbor lady.

It's hard to accept that John Stossel of FRONTLINE could execute a piece as pandering as this piece appears to be for the overachieving, ruthlessly self-centered parenting of the boomer generation. But from the outset we might have known how it would develop, given the early reference to "death by gunfire".

Unfortunately for all of the Kip Kinkels out there (killers at birth it seems), FRONTLINE acknowledges, without acknowledging, that these nurturing, warm, legendary parents were pursuing their own selfish agenda, while blithely towing the kids along behind them. It supports the parents' rationalization that a four year-old would find a relocation to a strange new land and foreign language (one in which the parents were fluent) to be a beneficial "cultural experience". And the chirping neighbor worries that the now five year-old boy, struggling to re-enter his own culture, might have been an embarrassment to his high-profile parents. FRONTLINE finds itself awash in empathy for such admirable parents, and their burdensome offspring.


But the parents were not to be held responsible for having taken a wrong turn in their youngsters upbringing. As welcome as a birth gift from the Magi, Kip was discovered to have a learning disability. He didn't realize that what was wrong with him was that he was "dyslexic".

A friend of Faith discloses the threat that Kip represented to that narcissistic nerve in his parents' psyche. She relates, "He would have cared that he was a disappointment. They were a very successful couple, high expectations. I would think that you would want not to disappoint them, to do the right thing. If he had difficulty reading ... that would be hard for him, because it wasn't hard for his parents, it's not hard for his sister, and that was their life, teaching, being successful."

But what about their primary job - being parents? Not relevant. This child was a pothole in the otherwise idyllic landscape of the part-time parent, full-time selfists' agenda.


As captured repeatedly in the family outing videos, the normatively all-feet-and-thumbs 10 year-old boy was no match for his agile 16 year-old sister. First, the gloating father captures the sister's accomplished ability to do those things that most ten-year-old boys wish they could do - handstands - and then invites his son to demonstrate his clumsy attempt to mimic.

Kristen was "an easy child." No cholic here. Going to Spain at age 10, Kristen might have been expected to "acclimate" more easily. And at age 16, able to speak spanish and perform handstands, she was the apple of her "legendary" father's eye; Kip, a stye. Father Bill gloats on the video, "Kristen continues to show us her gymnastic training and her cheerleading experience. Woww."

Later, on entering High School, the small, light (120 lb.) Kip was placed in another foreign environment - the football team, by his father. And again, he was set up for failure.

"Bill was himself, a tennis ace, and known on the court as a fierce competitor.", the narrator droans on.

The sister relates that when she left for college, she was no longer available as the mediator between Kip and their parents, whom she briefly portrays as being unforgiving of the smallest perceived slight from Kip. In the most sadly revealing memory, she recalls that she used to tell them, "slow down, think about the kids that you teach".


As Kip entered adolescence, and with sister Kirsten gone, the parents retreated further from him. They sought outlets that would undo their neglect and self-indulgence, permitting Kip to enroll in the Marshall Arts; to listen to destructive music and lyrics such as Marilyn Manson's "no salvation, no forgiveness"; sometimes kicking holes in the walls at home; and to retreat to his solitary online computer voyaging where he discovered smut and bomb making resources. He built bombs in his bedroom - and his parents didn't notice. The police discovered these voyages and activities when they later searched his room. (shades of Columbine?)

Later, the parents although "really, really concerned" acceded to Kip's escalating interest in, and possession of guns. This despite a psychologist's recommendation to the contrary. Bill, Kips father, didn't care for psychologists. He felt that they "cost too much, and probably wouldn't work anyway." The sister relates that the parents were adamantly opposed to violence. Kip tearfully reported to the psychologist that he believed his father "expected the worst from him."

Kip was prescribed Prozac. Bill was prescribed to "lighten up on the kid."

Amazingly, the psychologist who was treating Kip, talked to him about his guns ... and his (the psychologist's) "satisfaction with his Glocks". Not so amazingly, Kip developed an obsession with Glocks, and the permissive parents finally bought him one. And then he left treatment. And three months later, Kip stopped taking Prozac - apparently doing "much better."

Let's see, Kip believes that his father expects the worst from him; the psychologist, who knows this, stirs an interest in Glocks; and the father buys him one, and later, a semiautomatic 22 ca. rifle. Does anyone besides me see an evolving future event here?

In his freshman english class, Kip and his fellow students are treated to a violent street-gang, guns and self-destruction, adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - this after he had suffered an unrequited first love. Listening to the teacher's post-hoc intellectualized advocacy for showing this film is an abject lesson in why one should immediately begin homeschooling their kids. "I'll bet he identified with a lot of it. ... in this new movie the death scene is glorified, and they love it!", she pontificates - from afar.

Kip writes later, "Love is a horrible thing, it makes things kill, and hate."


In her final statement, the teacher who showed the adrenalin-pumping Romeo and Juliet adaptation to her sturm and drang adolescents says that she subsequently asks all of these students, "whose fault was it", and reports that they all respond "the parents."

Well, the kids got it part right. From this brief analysis, I hope to impart the importance of involved parents, who do not regard their children as merely young adults who must be permitted to find their own destiny. But Kip Kinkle's parents have also been given permission to be permissive by a self-involved, relativistic culture that says - do your own thing. And they have been abetted by a federalized school system that experiments with "progressive" socialization programs that have abandoned basics and moral absolutes.

There is vast unrealized potential in this fact-rich, deeply personal exploration of one of our culture's most desperate tragedies - kids killing kids - and Kip Kinkel. But FRONTLINE denied a resplendent opportunity to bring the message home, and instead, let everybody off the hook. You see, they all had good intentions (except those nasty guns and movies and music).

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