~ By Jasmine Rose
This semester I’m taking a policy advocacy class at the University of Southern California, for the masters of social work program. Over the semester we were asked to study a piece of legislature; I chose HR 227 Child Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act of 2011. Looking at this piece of legislature opened my eyes to the impact of guns in our country: how many lives are affected through injury and death, the accessibility of guns, and the estimated costs to society in medical expenses, law enforcement, and taxes.
As I was learning about the resources and organizations that are trying to address gun violence, I found Ceasefire Oregon and began emailing Baldr Odinson, the volunteer coordinator, to see what his organization was advocating for and to get his insights on what was being done in Oregon. I mentioned to him that I attended Thurston High School, where a school shooting had occurred in 1998. He asked me to share my experience, which he said he shares with others as a way to educate others about gun violence issues. Realizing we are coming up to the 13 year anniversary of that shooting, this blog post soon emerged. I do want to preface this by saying that school shootings are quite rare, with less than 2% of homicides of school-aged youth occurring at school (Muschert, 2007).
On May 21, 1998 I was home for the summer after completing my first year in college. I was looking forward to going to Thurston High School that afternoon, to speak to my old leadership class about my college experience and to hear about the projects they were involved in. Before going to the school, I was driving to a job interview, listening to the radio as I drove. They were talking about a school shooting, and I remember thinking it must have happened in Seattle, Washington. It did not take long for me to realize Thurston High School had experienced their first high school shooting that morning, and the police were still looking for the shooter. They were asking people to stay home if at all possible for safety reasons and to allow emergency vehicles could come and go. But I was already in my car, soon realizing I was driving 20mph in a 55mph zone, headed to an interview.
I don’t remember much about that interview, but I do know I talked to my interviewer about what had just occurred. The rest of the day was spent in front of the television, waiting to see the status of the students hurt. By the close of the day, we learned Kip Kinkel had shot and killed his parents the day before and that two students were dead and 24 injured. I thought a lot about his sister, Kristen, and how this might be affecting her. I remember, as a freshman in high school, watching her cheerleading; she had amazing tumbling skills when she was cheerleading.
In the weeks to come, I visited a makeshift memorial wall on more than one occasion; the chain link fence was covered with flowers, notes, candles, and photos. I also attended a community-wide gathering at Thurston Middle School and later a memorial at the high school itself. The whole incident made me very aware of life’s brevity, and instilled an extreme concern for youth and their pain (this concern still resonates with me today). The next fall I returned to college with a mixture of feelings from deep sadness to anger and disbelief.
While school shootings are rare, in 2001 a poll was taken of secondary students, of which 75% felt their school could be affected by a school shooting (Juvonen, 2001). Part of this could be due to the fact that both the 1998 Thurston School shooting and the 1999 Columbine shooting occurred in suburban schools. Kip Kinkel, a Caucasian, middle class student had two well educated parents. This case broke down many stereotypes, school shooters were no longer necessarily from urban, low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Thinking back to this tragic event, and the research I have been doing now as a result of studying H.R. 227, I’m still left with a lot of unanswered questions:
• How can we prevent such events from occurring?
• What do communities go through after experiencing an event like this?
• How do we reach teens before they take matters into their own hands that end in tragic results?
• As a society that has enough guns to evenly distribute one firearm to 90 out of every 100 US citizens (Legal Community Against Violence, 2011), can we be more responsible with the use and storage of guns?
Juvonen, J. (2001). School Violence: Prevalence, Fears, and Prevention. Issue Paper. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kinkel/
Legal Community Against Violence. (2011). Gun Violence Statistics. Retrieved on March 17, 2011 from:
Muschert, G.W. (2007). Research in School Shootings. Sociology Compass, Vol. 1, N. 1, pp. 60-80. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Retrieved from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-9020.2007.00008.x/full
Reich, K., Culross, P.L., & Behrman, R.E. (2002). Children, Youth and Gun Violence: Analysis and Recommendations. The Future of Children, Vol. 12, No. 2. Los Altos, CA: The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/pss/1602735