Amid tears at NIU, hunt for answers
By Josh Noel, Gerry Smith and Alexa Aguilar
DEKALB, Ill. — While answers remained elusive about what drove a graduate student to open fire last week in a crowded university lecture hall, many turned to faith Sunday as they mourned the dead and prayed for comfort.
About 100 people came to a DeKalb church and sang hymns of praise as photos of the five slain Northern Illinois University students were projected on a wall. In Forest Park, hundreds of mourners packed a funeral home, crying and holding one another as they said goodbye to one of the victims.
But any hope that answers might come from the person closest to gunman Steven Kazmierczak was dashed when his former girlfriend said in a tearful TV interview that he left no indication why he opened fire on Valentine's Day.
Jessica Baty said Kazmierczak, who killed himself with the last of 48 shots fired in the lecture hall Thursday, seemed only slightly changed after he stopped taking his medication a few weeks ago.
"He wasn't erratic. He wasn't delusional. He was Steve; he was normal," Baty said in an interview Sunday on CNN.
Baty said Kazmierczak, 27, called her the night before to say goodbye.
"He called me at midnight and told me not to forget about him," said Baty, 28.
She is among many who describe Kazmierczak as a man with some demons, but ones he appeared to control as he applied himself as a curious and disciplined student.
Law-enforcement sources said Sunday they had found no connection between Kazmierczak and anyone in the classroom he attacked.
The clues he seemed to purposely leave behind were ambiguous.
He had packages mailed to Baty, including one containing a holster bought from an online gun store, according to sources.
Kazmierczak had mailed her books, including a paperback edition of 19th Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's "The Anti-Christ," a book he had been reading recently, according to sources.
Kazmierczak and Baty had met while both were undergraduates at NIU. They later joined the same master's program in the school's sociology department in the fall of 2006.
Classmate William Mingus said he met the couple at a graduate student mixer before the fall 2006 semester. He recalled that they were dating at the time but broke up during the semester; it was awkward because all three worked together in the same classes.
"I guess that was about Steve trying to figure out things about himself," Mingus said. "He told me he felt he didn't want to be in a committed relationship with her, though he still liked her and still wanted to be friends. ... She was visibly upset, and he was upset that she was upset."
Though he had success at NIU — publishing papers and winning awards in the sociology department — he decided to transfer to U. of I. the following semester. He was passionate about issues in the criminal justice system, but his focus shifted to social work in Champaign, Mingus said.
Baty applied there too, and they moved south together, sharing an apartment off campus.
Baty told CNN that since arriving in Champaign, Kazmierczak had started seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed medications for him. After he stopped taking them about three weeks ago, she said, his behavior changed some.
He was "normal," Baty said, though "quicker to get annoyed."
A friend of the couple -- who asked not to be identified and who had contact with Baty after the shootings -- said he was told the gunman "was acting differently, keeping secrets." Baty told him that Kazmierczak had been turning his laptop away from her so she couldn't see what was on the screen, and that she struggled to get him to take his medication.
Police recovered the laptop from the DeKalb hotel room where Kazmierczak had stayed in the days before the rampage. But it, too, gave up few secrets. Its hard drive had been removed.
As law-enforcement officials continued their investigation, those touched by the tragedy struggled through their own grief.
Hundreds filled a funeral home in Forest Park to overflowing Sunday afternoon for the wake of Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero. Mourners chanted the rosary in Spanish as a video screen above Garcia's casket scrolled through pictures of her as a little girl in a frilly white dress, another of her on Santa's lap, and another showing her arm-in-arm with her brother Jaime.
Garcia lay in an open casket in a pink dress with a silver tiara in her hair. Dozens of pink roses flanked her casket.
At the Cathedral of Praise in DeKalb, the congregation found a measure of comfort in the service, which began with members lighting candles while the faces of the victims were projected on a wall.
"Pain always comes, but it's really up to us how long it lasts," said Veronica Helton, 59, a secretary at NIU's Center for Black Studies. "We're there for one another with all of our prayers and support. I believe we'll get through this."
The building where six people died was also a place for reflection Sunday. With the yellow police tape finally pulled back to the perimeter of Cole Hall, the curious came in droves.
Parents came with their children, a jogger stopped and knelt mid-run and former students shook their heads. Other than the media and the occasional police officer, the visitors have been the school's only presence. With classes canceled until Feb. 25, only about 200 of 6,000 dorm residents remain on campus, administrators said.
As did many visitors, NIU alumna Mia Lenon, 26, snapped photos of the ever-growing memorials, but she couldn't bear to take a picture of Cole.
"I wanted to, but this is where it happened, so out of respect I didn't," she said.
Tribune reporters Tribune staff reporters Andrew L. Wang, Monique Garcia and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.
Full story: Amid tears at NIU, hunt for answers