Volatile Mix of Pressure, Guns Not So Unbelievable, Teens Say
“It’s the ‘90s, man. Weird stuff happening.”
That said, 17-year-old Geronimo Austin set about Thursday to give me some perspective as to how and why a 15-year-old could walk into a school cafeteria, armed to the teeth, and open fire on his classmates as Kip Kinkel allegedly had done just a week earlier in Springfield, Ore.
It’s not as though any of us in today’s society, teens or adults, thinks these things can’t happen. But as the poignant post-shooting sign in Springfield said, “Why, Kip, Why?”
I cornered Austin and his pal Keith Amaral while they were lunching at a Carl’s Jr in Huntington Beach and asked if they could make sense--on any level--of the recent spate of schoolhouse shootings across the country. What I really wanted to know, even while fearing the potential answer, is whether either of them knew any classmates who might be capable of such a thing.
In other words, just how much of an aberration are these so-called aberrations?
“I have a friend who’s like that,” Amaral said. “He’s exactly like that, but instead of him trying to hurt other people, he tries to hurt himself. He’s my age, but he just got out of a mental hospital. He tried to commit suicide. He’s one of my good friends.”
Referring to the Oregon incident, Austin said: “Maybe not to that extent, but I know people who are suicidal too. There’s family problems, there’s school, all that together, all the stress of graduating on time, making your parents happy, it kind of bears down on you, and it makes people suicidal at times.”
Neither boy was shocked that the Oregon shooting had happened. “It’s so easy to get guns nowadays,” Austin said. “You can just find someone on the street selling them.”
“I know some people that if they got pushed around enough, they might get a gun and bring it to school, just to scare people,” Amaral said. “But I don’t think they would shoot anyone or shoot at random . . . I don’t see how anyone could do that. I could see how someone might get mad. . . . A lot of teachers have [made me angry], like, to where I wanted to hit ‘em or something, but not like wanting to shoot them or go to school with guns.”
Amaral is a junior at Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach. Austin is attending adult classes in the same district in pursuit of his high school diploma. While neither feels threatened by the prospect of a classmate going crazy at school, both said the pressure on teens is probably greater than adults understand.
“A lot of parents now, I think, they don’t remember how it was when they were young,” Amaral said. “They put too much pressure on kids, they try controlling them too much, then when they let their kids have a little bit of control, it blows up in their [parents’] face. They take advantage of it.”
Austin said students brought guns to school while he was in sixth grade and then in junior high. “You don’t know when that stuff is going to happen,” Austin said. “Like I said, it’s weird nowadays. When you have a gun, you have some power, and then people take that to another level.”
Mindful that Kinkel is accused of killing his parents before he went to school and allegedly fatally shot two students, I asked Amaral and Austin about the typical relationship between teenagers and parents. Simultaneously, they shook their heads and smiled wryly. “Once you reach a certain age, you don’t talk to them about the deeper issues of life,” Austin said. “When you’re in adolescence, it’s like, ‘How was your day? Fine. Blah, blah, blah.’ Once you get older, you start to come out more, get more mature.”
What would you have said, I asked, if you’d been a friend of Kinkel’s and suspected he was contemplating such an act. “I’d say, ‘Hey, you might want to think this over,’ ” Austin said. “The consequences.”
“I’d say, ‘Get some help,’ ” Amaral said. “Talk to someone about it.”
Like many adults who reeled from young Kinkel’s alleged shooting spree, the boys didn’t claim to understand his motive. It could have sprung from any number of factors. When I asked if either could picture “someone like him who was that angry, that lost,” they both said yes, but reiterated that they consider Kinkel a true aberration.
“I feel bad for him, just because it was a bad choice,” Amaral said. “He probably wasn’t in his right mind when he decided to do it.”
From the ripe old vantage point of being 17, Austin offered this portent:
“It seems like it’s getting worse and worse with every generation. It seems like kids are trying to grow up too fast, trying to be all mature. I’ve seen little kids--10, 11, 12 years old--smoking cigarettes. What’s up with that?”
Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org