Shortly after the tragic catastrophe that Kip Kinkel wrought at his high school, I spoke with his principal, Larry Bentz. Mr. Bentz told me that contrary to news accounts of Kip being a troubled, aimless youth, "he was a good kid" and a diligent student. Mr. Bentz particularly resented the "media trucks that invaded our town and took over, parking all around the back fence of our school property and really making a circus of it all. Their presence wasn't good for us; we all felt the heavy pressure. And all they wanted was to confirm their image of Kip as a disturbed, distraught young boy who finally snapped. But he wasn't that way at all. Both his parents were teachers — one taught Spanish and the other taught History. He was from a good home and good parents."
Do good kids from good homes write threatening essays rhapsodizing about dealing deadly violence? Of course not. Then why was everybody who knew Kip Kinkel locked into a common mindset about him, even when he became blatant in his expressed desire to kill? Perhaps we will never know the answer to that. Kip Kinkel was seen as a good kid with all the right trappings: A home in an affluent suburb, parents in the "right" professions, just the right dose of academic diligence at school. His brimming, overflowing anger was merely seen as live theater, nothing more. Was everybody, their guards down, fooled by Kip, or were they simply doing their duty, as a caring and nurturing community, to embrace him? Could it be that his essays warning of his murderous intentions were ignored because that community believed its unconditional love would change him? How were they to know that their benign disregard that greeted his ravings might insult him and fuel his final angry moments?
The ranting, rabid press coverage that followed the Springfield, Oregon disaster would have us believe that Kip Kinkel was no more a good kid than Charles Manson was a social worker. Journalists wondered why the head-in-the-sand response from adults who knew him, when he expressed his dark desires, was so universal. The day before he opened fire in his high school's cafeteria, he purportedly had been suspended from school for bringing a gun on campus.
Again, good kids do not kill. But is it really about being a "good" kid or a "bad" kid? Isn't it more appropriate to see students demonstrating or verbalizing anti-social behaviors and sentiments as "at-risk," "angry," "assaultive," "combative," "violence-fantasy," "violence-tendency," and the like to accurately portray the picture such students are showing of themselves? "Good" and Bad" are terms that confuse more than they clarify. They are cliches that simply fail to accurately describe a person or situation.