It would be easy to say, of the 103 hapless children in my research pool, that because of the kinds of terrible home lives they endured, it was a foregone conclusion — a "slam dunk" — that they would end up in prison or dead. This presumption is perhaps understandable. They bore the physical and emotional scars of years of abuse. It might be expected that they would of course "share" their pain with others — and do so with a vengeance. Less understandable, however, are the children from Littleton, Colorado; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon and other affluent areas whose scars and hurts were not so readily visible, enabling them to maintain a façade of being "good kids," "straight arrows," "regular," "average," and "normal."
Indeed, if there are such beings as children who are born to kill, we might all then assume they exhibit telltale behaviors and warning signs. The assumption is only partly true, but the myth it spawns is potent and enduring: Bad kids kill and you can identify them by what they look like, what color they are, what economic class they're in, what they wear, and where they live. We have only recently turned our attention to, and looked on in horror at, the deaths and devastation wreaked by "good kids" from "good homes" who have suddenly and unexplainably detonated and "gone off." Of all the kids you could find in the country, they were born to take the reins of power, to lead, to win. Or so went the assumption.
They came from homes that had affluence and influence. Yet, alienated and angry, these "good" children whose killings grabbed national headlines and gripped the nation by its collective throat, didn't seem to have an obvious "history" shadowing them, or terrifying and convoluted life-stories, as many of my adolescent interviewees had. Are we, then, to conclude that there were no signs or symptoms foretelling their future heinous acts? Surprisingly, there were; in fact, there were numerous witnesses to their early telltale signs. But merely being a witness does not make one a warner, instantly equipped with both desire and courage to report what danger or suspsects he has seen.
A warner might have deterred Kip Kinkel, the Springfield, Oregon teenager who early one morning shot and killed both his school-teacher parents, and then went to school and laid waste the lives of so many others. Kip, according to news accounts, had read aloud in his literature class excerpts from his journal describing plans to "kill everybody." He also gave a talk in science class on how to build a bomb. While rap artists are heavily criticized by A.S. senators for their violent lyrics — rapper "Ice T" became notorious overnight with his barbaric song "Cop Killer" — Kip Kinkel, an affluent 9th-grader, was disregarded and ignored when he boldly wrote and spoke of his desire to take human life. How much more "believable" ought he to have been? A better question is, how much more fearful and cautious and concerned should his teachers and now-dead parents have been? By all accounts, he simply did not "look" the part of a killer. Bespectacled and shy, he was a pimple-faced "nerd" whose appearance invited no suspicion as he orchestrated his plans to make everybody pay for his pain. But he escaped notice and was disregarded because he was an otherwise run-of-the-mill student.