Writer Re-examines Thurston Shooting

While a teacher at Lane Community College, Joseph Lieberman sat at a cafeteria table unaware the next four and a half years would be determined by the girl sitting next to him.

Upon seeing a sketchbook belonging to the girl, the two began discussing art, and she revealed she had been sent to a psychologist at school because her art was labeled as violent.

“Sent to a psychologist? That’s pretty extreme. Which school?” Lieberman recounted asking her.

“Thurston High,” she answered.

Lieberman discovered the girl had been covered by her best friend’s blood when 15-year-old Kip Kinkel wounded more than 20 students at Springfield’s Thurston High School after he shot and killed his parents at the Kinkel family home in 1998.

The narrative struck Lieberman, a Eugene freelance travel writer who was searching for a topic outside of travel for his next book.

“I came home and told my wife about this, and she said, ‘You know, you were looking for a subject for a book, and it seems like the subject found you,'” Lieberman said.

After a search on Amazon.com and a call to the district attorney, he found that nobody was writing about the Thurston High shooting.

“People who lived here wanted to just forget it. (For) journalists and media people, it was like, ‘Let’s move on,”’ he said.

Lieberman’s new book, “The Shooting Game,” is a rapid departure from his usual travel pieces. The book, focuses on 85 national and international school shootings and details the psyche of school shooters. Despite a Roseburg High School shooting in February, a recent report by The Oregonian reveals that Oregon schools are safer since the Thurston shooting. Lieberman, too, asserts that schools are a safe place to be, and wrote the book in hopes of making people more aware of school violence.

“Parents, teachers, counselors, psychologists, legal professionals and, most of all, troubled children themselves need to reach an understanding of why these terrifying events took place and what can be done to prevent such episodes from reoccurring,” Lieberman wrote in the preface of his new book.

Originally, Lieberman planned to focus on Kinkel and the Thurston High shooting because the issue had local connections.

“I met people involved with the Thurston High shooting. I thought I would only write about Kip, but I couldn’t do that. I saw the connections” to other shootings before Thurston, he said. “If we’re going to find out why they did it, we have to look at all the cases. I looked at every school shooting case there ever was” in the United States and overseas, he said.

Although the book evolved to include other shootings, it primarily focuses on the Thurston shooting and includes local sources such as University associate professor Dan Close, local parents, school administrators and a limited number of students present at the Thurston shooting. Lieberman was careful in contacting those present at the Thurston shooting because of the sensitive nature of the topic, he said.

“I put it out there and said, ‘If you want to come talk to me, fine,'” he said.

Once the book was completed, Lieberman had trouble finding a publisher. His initial publisher, Northeastern University, requested an academic book, but the publisher’s literary adviser told the Boston-based university publisher to scrap the book because Lieberman wasn’t credible as a psychologist.

Not down-and-out, he found a New York agent who advised him to remove footnotes for easier reading in hopes of marketing it to the general public. Publishers overlooked the book though, as attention was diverted to 9/11 and the war in Iraq, Lieberman said.

Eventually, he found success with California-based Seven Locks Press.

Although the book is completed, Lieberman can’t escape the information he’s consumed over the past few years. Last week, while watching an episode of “Against the Law” on the Discovery Channel in which a teen kills a neighbor, he continued to make connections to the book.

“The sympathy is always for the shooter,” he said.

Lieberman found that females often write to male shooters desiring to have sex with them or nurture them. At a University Bookstore signing, a woman asked for Kinkel’s address.

“The same sympathy isn’t shown to the victims. People don’t say, ‘Do you have any of the addresses for the people that got hurt?'” he said. “And that’s only two chapters out of 30.”

“The Shooting Game” is available on www.amazon.com and at local bookstores including Borders, Barnes and Noble and the University Bookstore. Lieberman will be at Borders in the Oakway Center in Eugene on May 1 for a book signing.