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Gunman kills 5, wounds 16 at NIU

Chicago Tribune report
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DEKALB, Ill. — A gunman accused of killing five students in a Northern Illinois University classroom Thursday had stopped taking medication two weeks ago "and became somewhat erratic," campus police said Friday.

At the same time, officials corrected an earlier statement that six other people besides the gunman had died, saying there had been a "miscommunication."

Police identified 27-year-old Stephen P. Kazmierczak, a former NIU student, as the gunman. (AP Photo)

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The gunman was identified as Stephen P. Kazmierczak, a former graduate NIU student, who took his own life.

"There were no red flags," said campus Police Chief Donald Grady, saying that Kazmierczak was someone "revered by faculty and students alike."

Kazmierczak's motive is a mystery, he said. Grady refused to discuss what medication Kazmierczak was taking or anything about his medical condition.

He said Kazmierczak brought four weapons — a shotgun and three handguns — with him when he kicked open a door to the classroom and began firing. Police found 48 shell casings and six shotgun cells in the classroom, indicating the number of shots, he said.

Authorities have traced the shotgun and one of the handguns to a gun dealer in Champaign, where Kazmierczak was attending graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They said the purchases were legal, and there was no reason that Kazmierczak should have been denied purchase. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are tracing the other two weapons, said agent Kevin Cronin.

Earlier, the DeKalb County coroner''s office had issued a news release saying that a sixth wounded student had died overnight, but university officials retracted that, saying there had been a miscommunication and that only five students and the gunman had died.

The dead students were identified as: Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester; Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville; Julianna Gehant, 32, of Meriden; and sophomore Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream.

Before the Friday morning news conference at which Kazmierczak was identified, NIU President John G. Peters said "the shooter had a very good academic record, no record of trouble."

By all accounts, police arrived quickly in the NIU incident. The shooting also tested the school's new security plan. (AP Photo)
Kazmierczak was not a current student at the school 65 miles west of downtown Chicago, authorities said. Peters earlier had said the man had been enrolled as a sociology graduate student at NIU but left school last spring.

In an interview at his home near campus Friday morning, a visibly rattled Joseph Peterson, the instructor of the ocean science class on which the gunman opened fire, said he did not know the shooter and had no idea why he targeted his classroom.

The gunman, dressed in black, stormed into an oceanography class Thursday afternoon and opened fire with a shotgun and two handguns. In a matter of seconds, he killed five and wounded 16.

Then, still on stage, he killed himself, authorities said.

Late Thursday, sources confirmed that the gunman was a graduate student in social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A law-enforcement source said the gunman was found with a U. of I. identification card in his pocket. Police also said they were unable to determine a motive for the shooting, which erupted shortly before 3 p.m., about 15 minutes before the class of about 100 students in Cole Hall was scheduled to end.

NIU classes have been canceled indefinitely. The dorms, however, remain open. "It's not a lockdown," NIU''s Peters told reporters this morning.

It was the worst campus shooting since April 16, 2007, when 32 people were shot to death on the campus of Virginia Tech University by a student who later killed himself. Virginia Tech officials have called NIU offering help and advice, Peters said.

Since 2000, there have been 14 fatal shooting incidents at U.S. colleges. (AP/Daily Chronicle)

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Eyewitnesses described hearing a door to the right rear of the stage slam open and seeing the gunman, wearing a knit cap and sweat shirt, wielding a shotgun. He stayed within 10 feet of the door and started shooting — first with the shotgun and then with the handguns.

"He stood there for a second, looked and then just started shooting," said Meghan Murphy, 22, a junior from Western Springs, a student in the class. "His face was blank, like he wasn't a person. He was a statue, aiming."

Instructor Peterson, who was giving a PowerPoint presentation, ducked and was shot in the arm.

Junior John Giovanni, 20, of Des Plaines and others said the gunman aimed at the center of the auditorium.

"He just fires right into the audience," Giovanni said. "He didn't say a word. It didn''t look like he was aiming directly at someone. I think he was trying to hit as many people as he could."

The blast was deafening, Giovanni said. Chaos erupted, with students dropping to the floor and crawling, running and shoving their way to the doors behind the rear seats, eyewitnesses said. Giovanni said he ran out of one of his shoes.

Half the class bolted for the doors; the rest cowered on the floor and attempted to hide under their seats or under desks, said Loren Weese, 18, a freshman from Schiller Park who was seated on the aisle about halfway up the auditorium.

"A lot of people fell," she said. "I don't know if they did that on purpose to avoid being shot. I remember stepping over them. I didn't talk to anybody."

Parmenter was a sophomore finance major who worked at the school newspaper, the Northern Star. A graduate of York Community High School, Parmenter played rugby and was hoping to intern at the Chicago Board of Trade this summer. A couple of weeks ago, he persuaded fellow members of the Pi Kappa Alpha to donate time playing bingo. Friends said he was from Elmhurst, but the DeKalb County coroner said his most recent address was in Westchester.

An LEO stands guard at the lecture hall where the gunman fatally shot 5 and wounded 16. (AP Photo)
He was sitting in the first row with his girlfriend when he was shot in the head. She also was shot.

DeKalb County Coroner Dennis J. Miller said this morning that he pronounced Garcia, Mace and Gehant dead on the scene, along with the gunman. The other two victims were pronounced dead by hospital officials in DuPage and Winnebago Counties.

NIU Police Chief Donald Grady said the department received a 911 call from inside the auditorium at 3:06 p.m. Police arrived 29 seconds later and found the gunman dead, Grady said. Students "were running through any door they could find to get out," he said.

After notifying the campus via the university Web site at 3:20 p.m. about a "possible gunman on campus," many students, teachers and staff were told to stay in place or "get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all clear."

Within minutes, the campus and DeKalb, a town of about 40,000, was a logjam of traffic — people trying to flee and others flocking to the scene.

Stuck in traffic as she neared DeKalb from her Park Ridge home, Carolyn DeSantis'' anxiety about her son, Michael, a freshman, rose with each passing minute.

"I was just freaking out," DeSantis said. "I called him every five minutes to see if he was OK."

In the half-circle drive in front of Lincoln Hall, cars and mini-vans queued, and students filed out of the building with backpacks, duffel bags and laundry baskets.

Students at NIU hold a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims. (AP Photo)

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As he waited for his daughter, Janae Morgan, 19, to come down to the mini-van from her dorm room, Darrin Robinson of Chicago pondered whether Thursday''s shooting was related to the racist threats that were scrawled on a bathroom wall last fall.

"I just want them to take care of the problem," he said.

The shooting rattled students and locals alike.

"I think everyone is numb and kind of out of it. This just doesn't happen in DeKalb," said Rosa Balli, 47, owner of Eduardo''s Mexican Restaurant.

Jillian Teegarden, 22, of St. Charles, a hostess at the restaurant, spent the afternoon calling friends to check on their well-being. She estimated she made 100 telephone calls.

"I'm just so scared to death that I''m going to hear someone''s name that I haven't gotten a hold of," she said.
Others pondered how close they came to death.

Ethan Gill of Sun Prairie, Wis., was wandering the halls of Cole looking for an exam he was supposed to take. He had poked his head into the lecture hall where the shooting took place about five minutes before the gunman arrived. He left to check on the location for the exam and was about to re-enter the hall when he heard a shot ring out inside.

"What if I was off by another 30 seconds or so, would he have shot me?" Gill said.

The shooting, which occurred near the center of the NIU campus, took place 10 months after a student gunman at Virginia Tech killed 32 people and himself in the worst shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

Armed with two handguns, the gunman killed two students in a dorm before storming a classroom building, chaining the doors behind him and shooting students and professors in German and engineering classrooms.

It was later revealed that the gunman had been referred to counseling after a professor became disturbed about his creative writing, and he was ordered to a psychiatric hospital because of concern he was suicidal.

On Dec. 10, NIU closed its campus after a racial slur and a reference to the Virginia Tech shootings were found written on a bathroom wall inside a residence hall. Administrators reopened the following day after authorities said the anonymous message no longer represented "an imminent threat to students, faculty or staff."

On Thursday, NIU President Peters dismissed any connection between the graffiti and Thursday's shooting. University administrators said the school imposed new safety measures after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and upgraded those measures after the Virginia Tech shooting.

The shooting was a grim reminder of the problem of keeping the traditionally open atmosphere of a college campus while protecting overall safety.

"Unless you lock every door, I don't know how you keep people out," Peters said. "I don't know if any plan can prevent this kind of tragedy."

On Thursday evening, about three dozen people attended a prayer service at Harvest Bible Chapel in DeKalb.

The non-denominational service focused on healing after the shootings.

"In our community and around the country, people are mourning and praying for us and for our campus," said Trevor Holloway, pastor of adult ministries, who led the service. "This is a very surreal experience. When we were watching it, unfold on TV, it's unreal. You almost can't believe it happened. You think, what if that would have been me?

"It causes all of us to think about how short life can be," said Holloway, urging the crowd to pray for the families of the victims.

Suzanne Mauhauer, a senior from Hoffman Estates, said she was in Gable Hall just after 3 p.m. when someone came into the class and whispered to the instructor.

"His face just went serious; he told everyone to grab our stuff and go into a room and he locked it," she said.

After locking himself in a room with the students, he told them what had happened. "People just broke down in tears," she said. "We couldn't believe what was going on. I kept repeating, 'Father, God.' People were crying around me.

"A lot of students are fearful to go back [to campus]. It's just not going to be the same."

Copyright 2008 The Chicago Tribune

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