Aimee didn't actually witness the shootings herself...she was a bit late to school that day...but she certainly witnessed its immediate aftermath and the ongoing drama in which she participated. Her words are posted largely unedited, with only a few grammatical changes...but that's all. She did not give her writing a title, so I labeled it "Thurston High School---May 21, 1998."
These are the facts: Kip Kinkel, age 15, opened fire in a crowded cafeteria at Thurston High School on May 21, 1998...killing 2 students and wounding 25 others. He also had murdered both his parents either the night before or earlier that morning. The day before, May 20, he was suspended from school for having a loaded gun in his locker. He is now serving a life sentence of 111 years without the possibility of parole...in Oregon.
Finally, as mentioned above, Aimee originally turned this in as an assignment...probably in college...and the teacher wrote the following comments on her paper:
"Much more effective ending. Your approach---your sixth?---was the right one for madness. Very powerful piece of writing. Images are sharp, pace is frenzied. If you ever rewrite this, try integrating images from your mind (out of the past perhaps)."
At the end of the essay there is a link to PBS' Frontline series...which gives details and analysis of this particular story. This includes audio recordings and a very insightful interview with Kip's sister, Kristen. I highly recommend it.
"Thurston High School---May 21, 1998"
"Thurston High School---May 21, 1998"
Dead. “That’s such a big word.” Elijah, a senior Varsity wrestler, probably for the first time in his life felt his heart stop. I look around the room and know everyone has simultaneously been punched in the stomach with a sharp knife. Time stops. Silence prevails. The skinny, white-haired history substitute keeps talking frantically, but no sound is heard. He suddenly realizes what he has said. He stops, turns, and leaves the room. Suddenly cold, Megan starts to shake and her boyfriend Jason holds her tight without noticing. Morgan, never lacking for words on the stage or in a debate, sinks quietly into a desk. Igor shakes his head. Nothing like this ever happens in Brazil. I blink. I must not be awake yet. I’d pinch myself if I could remember how, but I can’t feel my arms. My world clouds into nothing. My world no longer exists.
BZZZZ. . Go!! Shut up already! Smack! Wait a minute...How many times have I hit that this morning? What time...? Crap, I’m late! Again. “C’mon, Gabrielle, get up. You’re going to be late for school. You know that Granny drives slower than Mom and Dad.” My eight-year-old sister is sprawled completely sideways across our temporarily shared bed. Her blond hair is all tangled around her face, and her blue eyes are swollen shut with sleep. Up. Shower. Dress. Goodwill jeans, a huge blue men's T-shirt and my cream polar fleece vest. Just like every other day. Way to be creative. Oh, well. No time for make-up, as usual. Hair up in a scrunche. Brush teeth. O.K. “Gabrielle, let’s go. You ready?” I grab my books while she grabs her black Tweety backpack and we’re off. Another day at school. Its okay, though, just seven more after today. Graduation.. Finally.
I turn and see a blond-haired, blue eyed boy sitting in one of the ugly brown chairs in Thurston High School’s counseling center. It seems almost like he’s waiting to change his schedule. I place a hand on his shoulder. His empty eyes don’t even blink. “Hi.” No response. “What’s your name?” Nothing. I ask again. “I’m Aimee.” He jumps like he just noticed I am there. “I’m Ryan.”
Someone kicks me in the leg. It should hurt. I look at her for a second. She is screaming hysterically. She seems to have no control over her body. She is ripping out her tangled, dirty brown hair and kicking wildly. No one notices. I blink and look at her again. Her over-sized, once brown cords are soaked with blood, and her black T-shirt is turned almost completely around. Suddenly, I notice her. I jump up and almost tackle her, holding her arms at the shoulders as tightly as I can. I get hit in the ear. Damn. I pin her to the ground with my knees on her thighs and my hands on her arms, this time just below her elbows. She’s at least four inches shorter than me, but about my weight and with her adrenaline pumping I can hardly hold her down. I yell at a teacher for water. Decades later she brings me a glass. I move my legs to her arms, and pour the water down her throat while being kicked repeatedly. “Swallow!” As it starts pouring out the sides of her mouth, she finally swallows. I can feel her body relax beneath me. She sees me for the first time as she is thrust back to the present.
“Three. Jake and Jennifer on one side and another girl on the other. I thought it was a skit. You know, like for the ASB elections or something. It couldn’t be real. It just couldn’t. There was so much blood... All three of them hit the ground before I even moved. You know, I just transferred from Mohawk because it burned down. I’ve been here less than a year, and... .I must be a curse or something. Three.” Adam, the sophomore drummer in the jazz band is barely breathing. He towers over me. I try desperately to comfort him, but I don’t even reach his shoulder. “Three.” “Have you eaten? I’ll get you a bagel and some juice. Stay right here, okay.” A woman from the State Crisis Counseling Center floats over to the table we’re standing at and asks if we need to talk. I just look up at him. “No.” “Have you eaten?” “I was just going to go get him something.” “Umm.. Are you friends?” Her last ditch effort at conversation flounders. We’ve never even met before. I shake my head slightly. He looks down at me and smiles. “I guess we are now.”
I drive up to school in a hurry. I hale being late. Its 7:58 and I’m going to get another detention. Crap. Why are all these people here and in my way?!? I can’t get another detention. That’d be three detentions at an hour each. Why is there an ambulance with its flashing lights on pulled in front of the walkway to the courtyard? Did I forget about the Emergency Awareness Day with HOSA again? I thought that wasn’t until next month. I look again. Dang it, there’s a cop car there, too. I must have forgotten. To my left Mrs. Carlisle, the blond teacher that helps out with HOSA, is answering a question from the car behind me. All I can see from her lips is the word ‘‘Shooting.”
I blink. I must not be awake yet. I'd pinch myself if I could remember how, but I can’t feel my arms. My world clouds into nothing. My world no longer exists. Sarah Chambers crumples to the floor in a heap. “She’s dead. Theresa’s dead. She was leaning her head against my back and she just fell. He shot her in the head. She’s dead, I know it, she’s dead. 0h God, don’t let her be dead.” I put my arms around her shoulders and run my fingers through her hair. Amazing. There’s not a drop on her. “Breathe, Sarah. Come on. It’s okay, God’s got her.” Words tumble from my mouth and I hear them as if someone else is saying them. I’m surprised to realize that it’s me. The words comfort her and she starts to nod her head, but she’s still crying so hard she can’t breathe or see. Mrs. Sundahl, my creative writing teacher, comes into the room. She gets mobbed. We’ve seen no one from outside except the sub. We know nothing. “Are there any witnesses here?” She directs the question at me. “Just Sarah.” She is still sobbing inconsolably in my arms. “She needs to go to the counseling center for crisis counseling, and she needs to give a statement.” She tries to get up, but can’t. I look to Mrs. Sundahl for direction. “Take her.” I nod. “Sure.” I leave the secured classroom for the chaos of the counseling center.
“I saw Kip in the hall. He had a funny look on his face. He’s in my Science class.” I listen to Ryan as he tells his story for the first time. “I said hi and he just looked at me. He said, ‘I like you. Go away. Go and don’t come back. Go now.’ I just looked at him. I don’t know why, but I turned to go. He looked serious, I guess. I heard shots before I even finished a step. I turned back around and two guys were laying there two steps behind me. Kip just turned around and shot two guys point blank in the head. Why did he do that?” He takes a drink of the water I brought to him. “I’m glad I was nice to him.”
I maneuver Sarah through the halls. I take her the long way to avoid seeing the cafeteria as much as we can. I almost have to carry her. I was told to be careful. We still don’t know if they’ve caught him, and I don’t want Sarah to go through any more. Finally we get to the door, and someone pulls us in and slams the door behind us. The room is packed. She immediately sees friends of hers and runs to them. “Have you heard anything?” The room smells of something. What is it? I know this smell... Blood. 0, God, its blood. I think I’m sick.
I see Mrs. Graham. Thank God. We smile and hug. Her face is the first welcome thing I’ve seen all morning. She is my mentor and art teacher. A true woman of God. “I wore this cross today and I didn’t really know why. I guess I do now... It’s so good to see you,” she says with a smile. “I’m so glad you’re here. Can I help or will I be in the way?” “You can do as much as any of us. Stay. It’ll be good to have you here.” “Thank you.” We squeeze hands and offer up a quick prayer as we go our separate ways.
I start to shake. I'm so cold. I can’t get through to Tyler or my grandparents. ‘Dear God, please give me wisdom. Let me help here. You put me here, give me something to do. Let Tyler have a peace about me. Tell him I’m alright. Please let something good come out of this. Please.
I'm walking around passing out more water and I trip over a girl. I didn’t see her. She’s sitting on the floor holding her knees, head in her lap, just rocking. Just rocking. I bend over to talk to her, then decide to sit next to her on the floor. She’s shaking, too. I talk to her and she responds. That’s a nice change. “Are you cold?” “A little.” “Here.” I take off my vest and place it around her shoulders. I want to cover some of the blood that is enveloping her. I hand her the water I have, and she drinks it. “I’m Aimee.” “Shelley.” “Hi. Come on. Let’s go clean you up.” She looks like a frightened child you just took from the corner they were hiding in. She looks back. Her eyes are empty. Her blond hair is brown with blood. I’m sick again. She has blood drying on her face, arms, clothes, under her fingernails, even on the bottom of her shoes. We head to the teacher’s industrial sink in the library. We wade through a sea of people packed too tight to breathe waiting in line for the phone, but as they see her, blood-stained, they part like the Red Sea. The room around us grows quiet. “Come on.”
I take a wet paper towel to her face and move her arms under the running water. She has to look away. “It was my boyfriend.” The knife in my stomach twists. Don’t think. I wipe the water all the way up to her shoulders. I dry her off and carefully step her aside so I can wash myself. I make the mistake of looking. I just watch as someone’s lifeblood pours down the sink like dirt. The water turns pink against the terribly white sink. I’m going to throw up. ‘0, God, I’m sick again. This person is dead and I’m washing his blood off like dirt. I don’t even know his name.’ I’m so nauseous. DON’T THINK! Take Shelley back and sit her down. Just don’t think. Don’t think...
I take 10 seconds aside to breathe. I walk to the one semi-quiet corner between the counseling center and the library to just be there with Mrs. Graham. We both breathe for the first time in hours. Lifetimes. Mrs. Bellissimo scurries past us then stops and turns around. She needs a break, too. “I feel like I should be doing something for these kids. They haven’t eaten in hours. I have some donuts in my room. Should I go get them?” She’s talking so fast I can hardly keep up mentally. She looks at us helplessly. I say, “No. Don’t give them sugar.” “What do they need? I don’t know what you kids eat.” “Bagels. They need bagels and cream cheese and fruit and juice and more water. We’re almost out. Muffins, too, maybe.” I can’t believe the authority in my voice. Thank you, God. She looks at me and smiles like a little kid you just gave the privilege of bringing you the remote control. She runs off and twenty minutes later I turn around and there are tables upon tables of muffins, bagels, cream cheese, oranges, apples, bananas, and at least three different kinds of juices. Even water, bottled this time.
Water. Finally. A shower. I can’t get it hot enough. Why won’t this blood come off me? I kicked all my clothes off and threw them into the hail to be washed. They’ll be done by the time I finish with my shower. I’ve washed my hair four times! Why can’t get it clean?!? The water is so hot I am burning myself and I can’t get clean. I can still feel it and smell it. I drop my head to the wall and cry. ‘Why, God? Why?’
I walk around the counseling center passing out water, bagels, oranges; listening, hugging. I hear half conversations. Everyone talks, no one listens. “I wonder when 3rd period is today?” “The one night I actually did all my homework.” “Have you heard anything?” “I guess the test in history won’t be today.” Allen just stands there, staring. “Allen... Allen, talk to me. Please.” “I should have stayed. I shouldn’t have left him.” “What is it, Allen?” “I should have stayed.” “Allen, talk to me please. I’m listening.” “He got shot and he fell. There was so much blood.” Allen was blank. “Tony told me not to leave him. I had his head in my lap. He said not to leave him.” I turn around, half expecting to see jungle or hear enemy fire. The bookshelves and carpet surprise me. “They made me. I shouldn’t have left him... I shouldn’t have left him...”
Through the glass windows I can see across the courtyard and into the cafeteria. Blood. Chaos. Stretchers. So many people. I start to shake. I’m so cold. Don’t think. Just don’t think.
So many people here. “I don’t know you.” “I’m Karen from the State Crisis Counseling team.” “Oh. Hi.” “Have you given your statement to the detectives yet?” “No, I didn’t see anything. I’m just trying to help out.” They are everywhere. The whole library is taken up with detectives at tables, city, county and state police, three or four different crisis teams. They all want to hear your story. You have to sign out before you can leave the room. “Leave your phone number.” I look up at the clock. 10:35. Damn. I’m hungry, but I can’t eat. I can’t even swallow. Adam is talking to a detective now. He can’t get a hold of his parents and he doesn’t drive, so we’ll take him home. Me and whoever is out there waiting for me. I hope Tyler is there. I miss him right now. ‘0, God, please let Tyler be there.’
I walk back down the connecting hall between the library and the counseling center. Stacey is quiet now. We got her to a room all by herself, just her and the water tanks. She seems to have stopped kicking, but I am still leery. She sees me, and I go in to see her. She won’t let go of my arm. “Please don’t leave me.” I calm her down, and take her to a detective. They can’t reach her family, but at least this will give her something to do while they try. My bet is that they are waiting outside. No one comes in, people just leave. Walking or on a stretcher, people just leave. The detective pries her off of me, and gives me a sympathetic look. He asks if I’ve eaten. I pretend not to hear. I just want to go home. I find Adam and we sign out. 10:50. Three hours. I get a teacher to unlock the classroom that my bag was abandoned in and we walk down the deathly still hall.
The sun is shining. It hurts my head. 1 wish it would rain. It should be raining. Usually the sun offers hope; today it just seems to be mocking us, all of us. This seems like it will never be over. Five more steps. We cross the police line. I can feel the air against my face for the first time today, but it is stale. There is no life in it. It still reeks of blood.
Tyler is there sitting on a bench. Good I knew he would be. He stands and walks to me. He looks tired. We hug. I want nothing more than to go home and get lost in his hug. “I love you, Aimee.” I hardly hear him, but his words and the sound of his voice hit me on a much deeper level. He will take me home, and I will cry. That doesn’t seem to make sense, but nothing makes sense to me today. I haven’t really felt anything since I heard the words “Shooting” and “Dead.” I just want to wake up. I just want to get lost in Tyler. I just want to go home. He holds me. For the moment nothing else matters. I can not change it. No one can change it. All we can do is to deal with it, and hope someday to sleep and not see an industrial sink.