Gunman opens fire at university near Chicago


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By Jason Meisner, Jeremy Gorner and Tina Shah
The Chicago Tribune

DEKALB, Ill. - A gunman opened fire with a shotgun and a handgun Thursday afternoon in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, killing 4 people before shooting himself to death, authorities said.

NIU Police Chief Donald Grady said four victims had died.

At least 17 gunshot victims were taken to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb, according to spokeswoman Theresa Komitis.

At a news conference Thursday evening, NIU President John G. Peters said the gunman fatally shot himself, but he could not confirm anything about him or a possible motive. He said he had "no reason to believe" it was related to threats found on a bathroom wall on campus in December. The threats made reference to the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

The shooting occurred about 3 p.m. during a geology class in Cole Hall, in a large lecture classroom, authorities said.

"The shooter came from the front of the classroom where the instructor was, coming from behind a black curtain," said Joe Grush, of the NIU provost office.

The shooter was wielding a shotgun and handgun, said Special Agent Thomas Ahern of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ATF agents were assisting local authorities at the scene, Ahern said.

"We will be urgently tracing the firearms and learning the history of the weapons," Ahern said. He said agents will run the weapons through a national tracing center to "learn where they came from and how the shooter came to possess them."

Grady said at the news conference that the shooting "started and ended in a matter of seconds."

He said the gunman was not believed to be an NIU student, but "he may be a student elsewhere."

The campus will be closed at least through Friday, according to a statement posted on the university's Web site. "Students can go to any residence hall for counseling," the statement read.

Jillian Martinez, a freshman from Carpentersville, said she was in the auditorium in Cole Hall when the gunman entered through a door to the right of the lectern and opened fire about 3 p.m.

"He just started shooting at all the kids," she said. "He just started shooting at people, and I ran out of there as fast as I could. I ran all the way to the student center; when I got there I could still hear shooting [from the classroom]."

Martinez said the assailant was a white man and was carrying a large gun.

Dominique Broxton, 22, a student from Oak Park, said she could see two wounded students from her dorm room.

"The ambulance took away two students on the ground right outside my dorm," she said. "I don't know them. They looked bloody. Where I am right now, there are a lot of police, at least a dozen. There are police cars and trucks everywhere."

Broxton said the scene was chaotic.

"I saw a lot of confusion," she said. "Students were running. People really didn't know what was going on. There is an intercom system inside the dorm. Someone came on and stated that someone had been caught. They said they caught the shooter and that we should remain calm and stay in our rooms. I am in my room now."

Officers responded to a call of shots fired on campus around 3 p.m., according to DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott.

Sophomore Geoff Alberti of Geneva told his parents he was in the geology class when the gunman, carrying both a pistol and a shotgun, entered the auditorium-style classroom through an emergency exit. The shooter did not say anything before opening fire on the class, he told his parents.

"He said at least 20 rounds were fired," said his mother, Marilyn.

Most students dropped to the floor after hearing the first shot and then crawled out of the classroom on their bellies, his mother said. Alberti called his parents at 3:20 p.m. immediately after exiting the building.

"He was just frantic," Marilyn Alberti said. "He said, 'Mom, a guy just shot up my class.' "

Linda Stoklasa, 20, a sophomore from Gurnee, said she saw people running and screaming and a couple of students being treated outside her dorm.

"One kid was bleeding, one girl couldn't walk," she said. "It was a little after 3 p.m. I didn't hear the shots, but I heard people screaming outside."

Stoklasa said she opened up her window in time to hear another student from inside her dorm yell out to the passersby, asking them what was going on. One of the fleeing students responded back, saying, "Someone has a gun!"

"I was scared," she said. "I was really scared. Right now, I think people are calming down, but it was really frantic."

She said her dorm monitor wouldn't allow students to walk in the hallways, telling them to stay inside and lock their doors.

"I called my mom," Stoklasa said. "I couldn't even breathe at first. I told her I was fine."

In December, the university was placed under a security alert through the end of the fall semester after police found threats on a bathroom wall that included a racial slur and references to the Virginia Tech shootings.

Two separate messages were found by a student on a restroom wall in the Grant Towers D complex that read that "things will change most hastily" in the final days of the semester, university officials said at the time.

NIU officials increased campus security and notified everyone on campus about the threats by e-mail, voice mail and fliers.

Copyright 2008 The Chicago Tribune

 

Associated PressCopyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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