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But there were moments in the past school year when it became difficult not to imagine a Supreme Evil One dancing behind the eyes of the kids who decided to solve their problems with guns. Imagine year-old Kipland Kinkel in rustic Springfield, Ore. When she finally arrived, he allegedly said, "I love you, Mom," and then unloaded his weapon into her. It was around 6 p. At some point, Kip apparently decided to shoot up his high school in the morning.
To know is surely to see the face of Satan. In his frustrated rage he mirrors aspects of our own confrontations Was it something about the four communities where the kid killers lived--in Springfield as in Pearl, Miss.
Were they simply bad seeds, genetic and spiritual misfits born without the brain chemistry that produces compassion--and, indeed, without souls? Or was nurture to blame? Mississippi has made murder on school property a capital crime, and Oregon may begin requiring a hour holding period for kids who bring guns to school, as Kinkel did the day before the shooting.
Will any of these policies work? Boys everywhere are frustrated, abused, and saturated with media violence. But not all of them live in places where guns are available.
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Says Tom Furth, a former lawyer for Mitchell Johnson: This would not have happened in Minnesota," where his ex-client was originally from. Kip Kinkel begged his parents for guns so often that the schoolteacher couple, partial to tennis and not gun people, finally relented. His father "felt that Kip was going to get a gun one way or another," family friend Rod Ruhoff told the Eugene, Ore.
Another friend recommended a single-shot weapon, but Bill Kinkel bought his son a semiautomatic rifle. Later, he surprised Kip with a Glock pistol. The other boys also had experience with firearms. There is something else at work, a toxic combination of biology and environment.
However lonely or teased or poisoned by culture, the accused boys all seem to share a deep-seated--perhaps "inherited," as a Kinkel family friend put it--sense of rage.
It seems that Kip was too. Geneticists predict that a simple blood test will one day tell which tykes become terrors. For now, though, there is more folklore than science. Some kids, it is said, are simply born twisted. TIME examined court-ordered psychological reports on two of the boys, Woodham and Carneal, who both claim to be mentally ill. Were Woodham and Carneal driven by madness? The three psychologists who examined Woodham disagreed over his sanity two said he was able to distinguish right from wrong , but they agreed he had problems--narcissistic traits which include, clinically speaking, lack of empathy and hypersensitivity to insult and erratic coping skills.
Woodham talked of visiting demons. A few hours later, Woodham went after his mother with a baseball bat and an Old Hickory butcher knife, and then his schoolmates with a rifle. He sometimes heard voices calling his name and possible predators tapping on windows. He slept on the family-room couch to be closer to his folks. Whether Woodham and Carneal are ill, they doubtless shared with their three counterparts crushing feelings of isolation.
The boys felt particularly isolated from family members and girls. His brother even refused to talk to the psychologist evaluating Luke for the defense. For his part, Mitchell Johnson of Jonesboro apparently had never felt close enough to his parents to tell them that a neighborhood boy had sexually abused him repeatedly for at least four years. His parents had divorced, and they bickered over whether Mitchell needed counseling. Mitchell seemed to yearn for male approval.
The boy both feared and admired his tattooed stepdad, an ex-con.
After the shooting, Michael told a psychiatrist that everyone talked about his sister, not about him. Kip and Michael faced struggles in school. Family friends say Kip showed signs of intelligence but had trouble in the classroom. His parents put him on Ritalin for a time and, when he was later diagnosed with depression, Prozac. He could actually be really obnoxious.
Boys flicked water on him in the school bathroom and stole his lunch. Students said he had "Michael germs" and baited him relentlessly. The week before his rampage, he told an evaluator, a couple of boys threatened to beat him up in the band room. When he pulled a. If they went to get ice cream, she was there. It was also reported that Mitchell Johnson lashed out because Candace Porter had broken up with him.
Finally, students say a classmate had also broken up with Golden.
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Ironically, kids had even called Drew and the girl, Jennifer Jacobs, "Bonnie and Clyde" when the two were a couple. In their isolation, the boys seemed to suffer an erosion of self-esteem. Partly it was their physical awkwardness: Michael and Kip were small for their age; Mitchell and Luke were pudgy.
Furth describes Mitchell as "a sensitive, soft year-old"; in Arkansas, where little boys are taught to be flinty and stoic, softness is a handicap. Luke and Michael were teased about their physical appearance both were called "gay," the latter in the school paper.
They responded by overcompensating.
In fact, according to people close to the investigations, after their arrests both Luke and Michael expressed a morbid appreciation of their infamy. The boys shared a fascination with forms of "alternative" popular culture. Yes, this is fraught territory: Still, academics who study such things widely agree that exposure to media violence correlates with aggression, callousness and appetite for violence--even among adults, to say nothing of kids, who have a harder time distinguishing real from vicarious.
And on some TV shows--say, Cops--there is no difference. As social critic Sissela Bok writes in her new book Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment: There were other cultural loves. Woodham had implicated himself in a role-playing game at the behest of an older boy, Grant Boyette, now The Kroth played an interactive game called Star Wars--sort of Dungeons and Dragons on drugs--that involved loaded guns and threats to blow up the school.
Finally, Carneal told a psychiatrist that he liked to play Quake and Doom, two gory video games. Wilson has pioneered this thinking--believe there is a genetic component to these traits, that kids like Luke and Kip simply lack the DNA that keeps their fingers off the trigger. In the end, Satan is certainly the easier explanation, if less intellectually satisfying.