Weapon epidemic

Written by: Hannah Field | News Editor

Content warning: this article contains mentions of gun violence and death

Across 13 school districts in Oregon, 48 students were disciplined for bringing guns on school grounds in 2023 — an uptick of more than double the cases reported during the 2018-2019 school year, the last before the pandemic. That year, only 18 cases of guns on campus were reported.

The school districts of Centennial, Corvallis, Crook, Glide, Greater Albany, Jefferson, Medford, North Clackamas, Oregon City, Pendleton, Portland, Reynolds and Salem-Keizer reported student possession of a handgun, shotgun or rifle. The Oregon Department of Education released these records after a request for information filed by KGW. Four out of all 48 cases were middle schoolers.

Juvenile probation officer, Kyle Kinion, has worked closely with West Albany High School for 17 years, holding a unique position in Oregon as the school’s resource officer. West Albany High School sits in the Greater Albany School District, one of the listed 13 districts having reported guns caught on campus. “The (kids) that I work with haven’t shown up with weapons at school because they want to be the bad guy. It’s because they feel that they’ve been pushed to a certain point — (like) they need to protect themselves,” said Kinion. “So much of being a kid, unfortunately, is fear.”

May 2024 will be the upcoming 26th anniversary of the Thurston High School shooting, an Oregon shooting preceding Columbine by nearly a year. Fifteen-year-old Kipland Kinkel was suspended on disciplinary action due to his admission of keeping a stolen handgun in his locker. Following the suspension, he shot his parents, supposedly because of the shame he felt, and, one day later, open-fired in the school cafeteria — killing two students, Ben Walker and Mikael Nickolauson, and wounding 25 others.

Kinkel entered Thurston High School with two knives, two pistols and a rifle, with more than a thousand rounds of ammunition. After firing into a crowd of more than 300 students, it was reported that Kinkel was taken down by his peers — screaming, “Just kill me!” as he fell.

The story has been a grim reminder of the importance of mental health awareness and school disciplinary action — leading to action across Oregon in schools.

“There’s always plans in place. I sit on it — it’s the School Threat Assessment Team, STAT team. Most school districts, communities, or counties have this and this was put in place after the Kip Kinkel Thurston shootings,” said Kinion.

Former Western student Julius Hardman was attending class at Parkrose High School in Portland his junior year when a classmate entered the school with a shotgun under his trenchcoat — loaded with only one bullet intended for himself.

Hardman was in the B-wing of the school when a peer burst through the door shouting that they “gotta go right now.” Upon being asked by the teacher to calm down and explain the situation, she stated that “there was a guy with a gun.”

“She was too serious to be faking,” said Hardman. “Two minutes after she came in, there was an announcement on the intercom saying this is not a drill. (After that) there was a convoy of dudes in army camo.”

The student with the weapon was allegedly heartbroken after his split from his girlfriend, a fellow student. He was disarmed effectively before anyone was hurt — going on to live a relatively normal life after receiving psychological help, while leaving hundreds of former high school students possibly traumatized for life.

“I know that girl who busted into our classroom — she was in the room that (the gunman was in),” said Hardman. “She was f——g terrified.”

Skylar McNett, a current Western freshman, experienced a lockdown in their high school due to a call that there was a shooter on school property. Little did the school know, it was a hoax.

“We’re (all) sitting in lockdown, completely unaware, with the doors barricaded. Some of us have scissors in our hands and books, stuff like that, in case a person tries to break in, because we don’t know what’s going on,” said McNett. “We check online, and all we see is that three people are dead and that there was an active shooter. And it was so terrifying.”

They watched as SWAT officers passed by the windows, securing the perimeter with “giant assault rifles.” Two hours passed before it came out that it was a false call — the perpetrator of which was never discovered.

“I want to be a teacher,” said McNett. “I’m going to have to deal with school safety and be responsible for the lives of like thirty students in (situations) that I can’t control.”

The hoax followed the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting in McNett’s hometown of Roseburg — an event of which McNett knew the victims.

“Somebody saying something to me in the hallways — because I’m a grown man — isn’t going to be the same as a fifteen-year-old who’s in the throes of puberty, with all these things going on in their head. On top of some mental health issues they are going through,” said Kinion. “ … We need to make sure that the community is safe. We need to make sure that they’re safe also. That’s the double-edged sword — making sure we do what’s best for the youth, but also make sure they’re going to be safe and that people around them aren’t going to be harmed.”

Kip Kinkel had his own query in 2023: “How could I have gotten to this point at 15 that all these things came together — where my humanity collapsed, and I did this horrific thing to people I loved and to people I didn’t know?”

The fear Hardman and McNett felt has been resounded by thousands of students across the nation as shootings have become a well-known travesty.

Yet, in 2023, 26 years after the Thurston High School shooting, 48 kids were disciplined for bringing guns to Oregon schools — a statistic emphasizing hundreds of kids’ fears. 

Contact the author at howlnews@mail.wou.edu.