Critics ask why police report on NIU shooting isn't complete
By Michael Tarm
DEKALB, Ill. — If the police chief of Northern Illinois University had his way, the name of the man who gunned down five students in a lecture hall one year ago Saturday would fade into oblivion.
"Why give the guy the notoriety he sought?" says Chief Donald Grady, the lead investigator charged with issuing a final police report on the Feb. 14, 2008, attack. "That might only encourage someone else with mental issues to try and do the same thing one day."
The report on Steven Kazmierczak's rampage, which ended with his suicide, still could be months or even years away, Grady said. He brushes aside critics who insist the findings are long overdue.
"You want to know who the suspect is? You know that. He's dead," said Grady, his booming voice rising. "You want to know how many guns he had? You know that. You want to know how many victims there were? You know that. What else do you need to know?"
Indeed, it took only hours for authorities to piece together the rampage that lasted mere minutes:
Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old former NIU student, stepped from behind a screen on the lecture hall stage, carrying four guns. He fired dozens of shots into the geology class, killing five and wounding 19 others before turning a gun on himself.
Killed were Gayle Dubowski, 20; Catalina Garcia, 20; Julianna Gehant, 32; Ryanne Mace, 19; and Daniel Parmenter, 20.
Some family members hope for clarity from a final report. "I want to know as much as I can about situations," said Joe Dubowski of Carol Stream, whose daughter, Gayle, was shot in the head.
"What was she was doing in her last moments? ... Was she standing up? Was she lying down? Or was she sitting there, as some students were, in shock, not even moving?"
The biggest question - why Kazmierczak did it - may be unanswerable.
Officials and friends have said Kazmierczak struggled with mental health troubles, but no motive has been determined and no suicide note was ever found.
Grady said he still has thousands of investigative papers to read, and even holds out hope that a hard drive apparently discarded from Kazmierczak's laptop before the attack might turn up. But with no additional suspects or indication of accomplices, he said, "this case just isn't as high a priority anymore."
The lack of urgency appears in sharp contrast to the response to the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people dead. Two voluminous reports were released within five months, one by a governor's panel and another by the school.
After the Virginia Tech massacre, though, both police and the school were heavily criticized, with parents and others saying a slow reaction enabled gunman Seung-Hui Cho to claim more victims before killing himself. There was clamor for a quick, full accounting.
No such clamor followed the NIU slayings. NIU instead won praise from a state panel and others for quickly alerting the student body of nearly 25,000. Campus officers burst into the classroom within minutes of the first 911 calls - only to find Kazmierczak dead, weapons strewn about him.
Grady notes that even the Virginia State Police, which has led the Virginia Tech investigation, has not released all documents or a final report.
VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the agency opened all evidence possible, but witness statements, crime scene photographs and tapes of 911 calls are not included.
"I can tell you, you don't want to hear those tapes," Geller said of the 911 calls. "If you can tell me one good reason why the public needs to hear these students, some in their final moments and begging for their lives, I'd listen."
NIU police also have refused to release 911 tapes.
Jim Thomas, an NIU sociology professor who once taught Kazmierczak and maintained a friendship with him and his girlfriend, contends it's not up to Grady to decide whether a final report is relevant.
He said he understands many survivors and their families aren't pressing Grady, in part because some credit his department's swift action with saving lives.
"I know some of the families think Grady walks on water," Thomas said. "But we're talking about information that should be made public, including to help some people bring closure."
Grady won't discuss investigative details, but said he has tried to help bring closure, including by accompanying survivors and relatives into the red-bricked Cole Hall where the carnage took place.
Maria Ruiz-Santana, 21, said her return brought on flashbacks of Kazmierczak firing from the stage.
"I wanted to go back because I felt that was the way for me to heal completely, emotionally," she said.
Ruiz-Santana remembers lying in the lecture hall aisle after being shot, bleeding and gasping for air as she saw the gunman's feet walk past her - and she credits Grady with saving her life; he held her hand and talked to her to keep her from going into shock.
"He keeps denying it, but I still believe he is my hero," Ruiz-Santana said.
Mark DeBrauwere's daughter, Lauren, was wounded when a bullet lodged in her chest. Parmenter, one of those killed, was her boyfriend.
But DeBrauwere said neither he nor his daughter need a final report.
"As far as I'm concerned it was closed after day one," he said. "All the answers left when (Kazmierczak) killed himself."