25 years later, memories of Thurston School shooting in Springfield, Oregon still haunt community
This weekend marks 25 years since Thurston High School student Kip Kinkel murdered his parents, then opened fire on classmates in a cafeteria the next day.
Two students, Ben Walker and Mikael Nickolauson, died, while two dozen others were wounded.
The bodies of Bill and Faith Kinkel were discovered in their Springfield home shortly after. Their 15-year-old son was sentenced to 112 years in prison for four murders and multiple charges of attempted murder.
Just outside Thurston High on the night of May 20, Dan Hagengruber stood by the marker for Walker and Nickolauson, and the Thurston Wall.
“Sacred ground,” he said, taking in the scene. “It’s good to be here. Good to see what’s been done, and the memory of those who were lost and injured, and some of the heroics that happened that day.”
Though it was Hagengruber’s first visit to the memorial site, he’s very familiar with the details of the shooting.
On May 21, 1998, Hagenbruber was on duty as an anesthesiologist at Sacred Heart Hospital in Springfield. He remembers seeing over twenty kids rushed in that day: all shot by their classmate, Kip Kinkel.
“I grabbed as many drugs as I could hold in my pockets, not knowing how long I’d be there, or who I’d be taking care of,” he said. “I’d never responded to something like that.”
At the time, the Thurston School shooting was seen as an anomaly. It preceded the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado by nearly a year.
In the decades since, mass shootings in schools and elsewhere have become a frequent occurrence in the U.S., including Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Uvalde. Gun control, juvenile justice reform, the role of mental health in mass shootings, and school security remain issues in a recurring debate.
Hagengruber said not only did he handle shooting victims from Thurston, but he saw a couple more from the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College. Despite the tragic deaths of the two students and Kinkel’s parents, Bill and Faith Kinkel, Hagengruber said that he’s heartened by seeing the survivors grow up and live their best lives.
“Hope we can use this as a place to reflect and learn and grow, so that we can be a safer society overall,” he said.
Kinkel is 25 years into a 112-year prison sentence. The Oregon Supreme Court recently rejected his petition for a murder review hearing, which his attorney says he was entitled to after concurrently serving his four 25-year sentences for murder. Kinkel’s attorney says they will now go through the “more typical channels of legal review.”
In a statement shared with KLCC ahead of the anniversary, Kip Kinkel said he continues to have “tremendous remorse” for the harm he caused in May of 1998. He said he’s declined requests for interviews out of respect for the victims of his crimes and their loved ones, adding that “the sound of my voice may cause additional and unnecessary trauma.”
While there were several organized vigils and memorial services held on the 20th anniversary of the Thurston School shooting, KLCC has been unable to find notice of any planned events this weekend. But it’s expected many survivors and victims’ surviving relatives will mark the occasion in their own way.
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