25 years later, memories of Oregon’s Thurston school shooting still haunt community

By Brian Bull (KLCC)
May 21, 2023 4:13 p.m.

This weekend marks 25 years since Thurston High School student Kip Kinkel murdered his parents, then opened fire on classmates in a cafeteria the next day.

Two students, Ben Walker and Mikael Nickolauson, died, while two dozen others were wounded.


The bodies of Bill and Faith Kinkel were discovered in their Springfield home shortly after. Their 15-year-old son was ultimately sentenced to 112 years in prison for four murders and multiple charges of attempted murder.

Just outside Thurston High on Saturday night, Dan Hagengruber stood by the marker for Walker and Nickolauson, at the Thurston Wall.

A man stands in front of a wall that has a memorial plaque on it.

Dan Hagengruber visits the Thurston Memorial and Wall in Springfield, Ore., on May 20, 2023. He was among the staff at Sacred Heart Hospital who treated two dozen shooting victims from Thurston High School on May 21, 1998.

Brian Bull / KLCC

“Sacred ground,” he said, taking in the scene. “It’s good to be here. Good to see what’s been done, and the memory of those who were lost and injured, and some of the heroics that happened that day.”

Though it was Hagengruber’s first visit to the memorial site, he’s very familiar with the details of the shooting.

On May 21, 1998, Hagenbruber was on duty as an anesthesiologist at Sacred Heart Hospital in Springfield. He remembers seeing more than 20 kids rushed in that day: all had been shot by their classmate, Kip Kinkel.


“I grabbed as many drugs as I could hold in my pockets, not knowing how long I’d be there, or who I’d be taking care of,” he said. “I’d never responded to something like that.”

At the time, the Thurston school shooting was seen as an anomaly. It preceded the mass shooting at Columbine by nearly a year.

In the decades since, mass shootings in schools and elsewhere have become a frequent occurrence in the U.S., including Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Uvalde. Gun control, juvenile justice reform, the role of mental health in mass shootings, and school security remain issues in a recurring debate.

Not only did he handle shooting victims from Thurston, Hagengruber said, but he would later see a couple more from the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College. Despite the tragic deaths of the two students and Kinkel’s parents, Bill and Faith Kinkel, Hagengruber said, he’s heartened by seeing the survivors grow up and live their best lives.

Related: Years after school shooting in Springfield, Oregon, wounded student’s life has taken on a remarkable trajectory

“Hope we can use this as a place to reflect and learn and grow, so that we can be a safer society overall,” he said.

Kinkel is 25 years into a 112-year prison sentence. The Oregon Supreme Court recently rejected his petition for a murder review hearing, which his attorney says he was entitled to after concurrently serving his four 25-year sentences for murder. Kinkel’s attorney says they will now go through the “more typical channels of legal review.”

In a statement shared with KLCC ahead of the anniversary, Kip Kinkel said he continues to have “tremendous remorse” for the harm he caused in May of 1998. He said he’s declined requests for interviews out of respect for the victims of his crimes and their loved ones, adding that “the sound of my voice may cause additional and unnecessary trauma.”

While there were several organized vigils and memorial services held on the 20th anniversary of the Thurston school shooting, KLCC was unable to find notice of any planned events this weekend. But it’s expected many survivors and victims’ surviving relatives will mark the occasion in their own way.

People stand outside in a mown field. Many hold lights in their hands.

A file photo from May 2018, when roughly 200 people gathered in Springfield's William S. Fort Memorial Park to hold a candlelight vigil to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Thurston school shooting.

Brian Bull / KLCC