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Medical expert: Brain damage could have contributed to school shooting spree

November 10, 1999
Web posted at: 8:05 a.m. EDT (1205 GMT)

In this story:

Sentencing phase under way

Had been suspended for fighting


From Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The argument that Kip Kinkel, 15 years old when he killed his parents and two of his schoolmates, went on the shooting spree because of brain damage coupled with paranoid schizophrenia has scientific merit, a medical expert says.

Dr. Pamela Blake, with Georgetown University Hospital, reviewed the brain scans of 31 murderers, 20 of whom had physical evidence of frontal lobe dysfunction like that of Kinkel.

Kinkel, now 17, pleaded guilty to killing his parents at their home and two students at the Springfield, Oregon, high school on May 21, 1998. The shooting left 25 other students injured.

Sentencing phase under way

The sentencing phase of Kinkel's trial is under way in Eugene, Oregon. He faces 25 years to 220 years in prison, depending on whether the terms are served concurrently or consecutively.

A neurologist who testified for the defense on November 4 said a computerized scan of Kinkel's brain showed areas of reduced brain activity that are consistent with new research into children who become schizophrenic.

Dr. Richard Konkol, responding to a question from Kinkel's attorney, Mark Sabitt, agreed that the "holes" would make the teen more susceptible to a psychotic episode.

"I think it would," responded Konkol, chairman of pediatric neurology at Kaiser Permanente Northwest Health Plan and a professor at Oregon Health Sciences University.

Blake said the abnormalities could, in part, explain a tendency toward impulsive, violent outbursts.

"They could impair someone's ability to learn social cues ... one's ability to control his reflexes ... and control his impulses," Blake said.

Had been suspended for fighting

Kinkel's teachers, who described him as a good math and science student, also said he had been suspended from school for fighting. They said he was a student who would lose his temper at recess if he thought someone was breaking the rules of a game he was playing.

That, said Blake, is typical of someone with this kind of brain damage.

"A minor taunt or a minor sort of insult would not be something that he or she could get past ... and it would cause him to lash out," she said.

According to Blake's study, this brain damage is not solely responsible for violent tendencies.

Kinkel's fascination with guns and violent computer games and videos could be important ingredients contributing to a combustible mix.

"There are a lot of people who have brain injuries or brain damage who are not violent individuals," Blake said.


Oregon school shooter showed signs of mental disease
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Georgetown University Medical Center
Oregon Health Sciences University - The Huxley Institute for Biosocial Research, Westchester Chapter
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