20 years later: Shooting survivor, ER nurse remember deadly spree at Thurston High School

It was the school shooting that drew national attention before Columbine. On May 21, 1998, a then 15-year-old gunman ...

Posted: May 22, 2018 11:17 AM
Updated: May 22, 2018 11:17 AM

It was the school shooting that drew national attention before Columbine. On May 21, 1998, a then 15-year-old gunman walked in Thurston High School in Springfield and opened fire.

In just minutes, over two dozen students would be wounded -- two of them fatally.

"This doesn't go away after a few months," said Betina Lynn, then a junior at Thurston, who was shot and survived. "It's not something you just kind of magically get over in six months to a year."

Lynn had met friends in the cafeteria when shooter Kip Kinkel, a fellow student, walked in dressed in a trench coat. He was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and two pistols when he started spraying bullets.

However, Kinkel's rampage had actually begun a day earlier after he had been expelled for having a loaded gun in his locker.

Later that night, at his family's home, he would shoot and kill both of his parents - Bill and Faith Kinkel. At the time, Kip wrote in a confession note that he murdered them because he didn't think they could bear the "embarrassment" of his school discipline.

The following day, Kinkel went on a shooting spree at school. Betina Lynn, who was shot in the back and foot, was sitting at a table with friends.

"The moment that the second bullet hit my foot, I saw the gun," she said.

FOX 12 asked her, "Do you ask yourself, 'Why me?'"

"Yeah, I have. I used to do that with more frequency. There's no answers to that," replied Lynn.

Lynn explained that as others she knew moved forward with their lives, she often struggled.

"The world around us very quickly started to tell us 'Get over it. Move on. Get back to normal.' That is actually not possible," Lynn said. "We will never, ever, ever be the people who we were before that day."

Lynn, and other shooting victims, were rushed to one of two area hospitals. One of them was Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield.

"People have forgotten about Thurston. When you ask people about school shootings, they'll tell you about Columbine - or Parkland, or some of the other school shootings. But Thurston, from what I recall, was one of the first," said Paul Wagner, who was working in Sacred Heart's Emergnecy Room on the day of the Thurston shooting. "I hadn't experienced school shootings before. It's not something that was in our mindset at that point in time."

Two years after the Thurston shooting, the FBI began a 16-year track of active shooter incidents in the United States.

The data, collected from 2000 to 2016, showed a relatively steady rise in the frequency of shootings, as well as the number of people wounded or killed in each incident.

The data does not include last year's massacre in Las Vegas, the deadliest shooting in modern history that left 58 people killed and injured hundreds more.

For Wagner, the continued violence brings him back to what he saw after Thurston.

"Some of them were in very bad shape," he said of students who were shot. "Some of them came in and went to the OR very quickly because that's what they needed."

Wagner said what has stayed with him the most from that day was the professionalism he witnessed from first responders - including many that had a personal connection to the school.

"I had friends that were firefighters and paramedics at that time who were the first in the building, and they had to see the carnage. And this is, for all of these guys, a community that they grew up in. This is a school that they had gone to school in. A lot of people had family members in that school. I had nurses that I worked with who had kids that went to Thurston," Wagner said. "You've got this kind of wall that you put up because you've got to go back to work."

But over the years, Wagner explained that wall eventually came down.

"One day, of all things, I was watching Titanic and I was sitting in the movie theater and just pouring tears," he said. "And my wife was with me and I realized that okay, there's been a lot going on that I hadn't dealt with."

There's no doubt a wide array of permanent scars carried by many from that day.

For Lynn, who still lives with bullet fragments in her body, sudden loud noises can bring on flashbacks.

"We're not holding on to the shooting," she said. "It's holding on to us."

Lynn now works in education at the University of Oregon, just miles from the high school where she was shot. She says even though it's now two decades later, there's still not enough being done to prevent more shootings.

"Kip actually had a history of violent behavior. They knew he was a problem for a lot of years and did nothing," she said. "The problem wasn't the openness of the school. The problem is we are creating these shooters somehow, and we are not addressing that issue. We are not taking steps to figure out what is propelling these students and these individuals in our society to commit these acts."

Lynn is against arming teachers and thinks it wouldn't have made a difference at Thurston because the gunman came into the school through a dark, back hallway.

She says she decided to speak about her own tragedy publicly again because of the recent March For Our Lives movement, a student-led demonstration formed by survivors of February's shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.

"I am so excited by the momentum that they have created and the fact that they have been able to keep the conversation going on this long," Lynn said.

Kinkel, who's massacre was stopped by other students when he was tackled, continues to serve a nearly 112-year prison sentence. But Lynn says he's not the only one who lives with a lifelong consequence.

"We are living with life sentences," she said. "He might be the one in prison, but this will follow us for the rest of our days."

Kinkel did not respond to FOX 12's written requests for comment on this story. His attorney, who is appealing Kinkel's life-sentence, also denied our requests for an on-camera interview.

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