NIU Rampage: No motive, 5 victims dead
DEKALB, Ill. (WLS) -- A former Northern Illinois University student who shot and killed five students before killing himself had recently gone off his medication, police said.
Steven Kazmierczak, 27, fatally shot five people - four women and one man - and injured more than a dozen others before he turned the gun on himself. The 27-year-old, who studied sociology at NIU, was a current student at University of Illinois in Champaign.
Officials did not release what kind of medication Kazmierczak was taking, but said his behavior, according to those who knew him, had become 'erratic' in the last couple weeks. Kazmierczak was treated for mental illness nine years ago. He was considered volatile, according to a staff member who worked a at the facility at the time, and violent if he stopped taking the antidepressant and anti-anxiety pills prescribed for him, medication he was supposed to still be taking and apparently stopped a couple of weeks ago.
Officials said he was considered a wonderful student with a good reputation, who was well liked by faculty and classmates. Police do not have a motive in the case and no suicide note has been found.
"He was an outstanding student, he was someone revered by the faculty and staff and students alike. So we had no problems and we've had no indications at all that this would be the type of person that would engage in such activity," said Chief Donald Grady.
"We were dealing with a disturbed individual who intended to do harm on this campus," NIU President John Peters said. "We will heal together."
A statement from the family of Kazmierczak was posted on the door of his sister Susan's home in Urbana, Ill.:
"Our heartfelt prayers and deepest sympathies are extended to the families, victims, and all other persons involved in the NIU tragedy.
"We are both shocked and saddened. In addition to the loss of innocent lives, Steven was a member of our family. We are grieving his loss as well as the loss of life resulting from his actions.
"As a result of our family's extensive grief, we will not be making any additional statements to the news media. We respectfully request the media honor our family's wish and recognize our grief following this tragic event."
Some of the students who did not leave signed the large message board outside the campus center. For them, staying on campus seemed like the best way to cope.
Elsewhere in DeKalb, on and off campus, there were services and vigils as a community steeled itself for more grief until the victims are buried.
"You come here and it's real," said Elizabeth Torres. "I don't know if this helps people, but it did happen. It's a real tragedy."
Many students left Thursday night after the shooting, but some remain, gathering to mourn the deaths of five students who were killed. As police piece together the investigation, the NIU community grieves- and tries to cope with the disturbing images they witnessed during the shooting rampage.
"One guy got shot in the stomach, one girl got shot in the arm, and Daniel was her boyfriend, and he died," said Raquel Vega, who was in the lecture hall where the shooting occurred.
Classes and other NIU events have been canceled until further notice.
"I can't even sleep in my dorm. I feel wrong for sleeping in my dorm," said Vega, sobbing.
Grief counselors are at those dorms, trying to reach as many students as possible.
On Friday, Governor Rod Blagojevich spoke from the NIU campus.
"If there was a way this tragedy could have been anticipated- or stopped before hand- we will find it," said Gov. Blagojevich. "I think there's one thing that can be hopeful, and that is that you see the best of people during very difficult times."
Kazmierczak brought four guns with him to NIU on Thursday, February 14. Two of the weapons -- the pump-action Remington shotgun and a Glock 9mm handgun -- were purchased six days before the rampage, on February 9. All four of the weapons were legally purchased from a Champaign store, Tony's Gun Shop.
Campus Police Chief Donald Grady said 48 shell casings and six shotgun shells were recovered where the shooting occurred at 3 p.m. in Cole Hall. According to Grady, Kazmierczak reloaded his shotgun after firing on students in a geology class and then shot himself to death on a stage in the hall.
"As we understand it, he was seen outside of the building. But they didn't necessarily see any weapons. He carried the shotgun in a guitar case. He had a coat on over top of the belt that carried the weapons and the ammunitions that he had. So no one would have seen that," said Chief Grady.
Witnesses said Kaczmierczak, dressed in black and wearing a stocking cap, emerged from behind a screen on the stage and opened fire just as the class was about to end around 3 p.m. Officials said 162 students were registered for the class but it was unknown how many were there Thursday.
Allyse Jerome, 19, a sophomore from Schaumburg, said the gunman burst through a stage door and pulled out a gun.
"Honestly, at first everyone thought it was a joke," Jerome said. Everyone hit the floor, she said. Then she got up and ran, but tripped. She said she felt like "an open target."
"He could've decided to get me," Jerome said. "I thought for sure he was gonna get me."
John Giovanni, 20, of Des Plaines said the gunman calmly fired at the greatest concentration of students.
"He was shooting from the hip. He was just shooting," said Giovanni, who turned and ran so fast that he lost a shoe. "I was running but I was hurtling over people in the fetal position."
Peters said four people died at the scene, including three students and the gunman. The others died at hospitals. The teacher, a graduate student, was wounded but was expected to recover.
Lauren Carr said she was sitting in the third row when she saw the shooter walk through a door on the right-hand side of the stage, pointing a gun straight ahead.
"I personally Army-crawled halfway up the aisle," said Carr, a 20-year-old sophomore. "I said I could get up and run or I could die here."
She said a student in front of her was bleeding, "but he just kept running."
"I heard this girl scream, 'Run, he's reloading the gun!"'
Kazmierczak had a valid Firearm Owner's Identification Card, which is required for all Illinois residents who buy or possess firearms, authorities said.
Coroner identifies fatalities
Correcting information his office released earlier, DeKalb County Coroner Dennis J. Miller said five students -- not six-- were killed in the rampage, in addition to the gunman. Miller said confusion over the fate of a patient taken to another county for treatment led to the release of the wrong, higher death toll earlier Friday.
"There was a miscommunication. There are 6 total fatalities," Miller said.
Miller released the identities of four victims: Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester; Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville; and Julianna Gehant, 32, of Meriden.
Another victim, Gayle Dubowski, a 20-year-old sophomore from Carol Stream, died at a Rockford hospital, Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia said.
A vigil was held Thursday night to honor the victims of the shooting. On Friday morning, more than 100 students attended another gathering outside Pi Kappa Alpha House to honor Parmenter.
The sophomore attended York Community High School before going on to NIU, where he played rugby. His alma mater honored him with a moment of silence Friday. Counselors are also available at the school.
"'A gentleman' is a great word to describe him because he was a quiet leader. Coaches and teachers talk about the way he led others, you know, on the football field and in the classroom, and was really a role model, I think, in both places," said Diana Smith, principal, York Community High School.
Parmenter's parents did not wish to talk on camera. His father said the family is planning a funeral.
Hospital updates victims' conditions
Eighteen victims with gunshot wounds were taken to Kishwaukee Community Hospital for treatment on Thursday. One of them remains hospitalized Friday evening-- a 20-year-old female who will undergo orthopedic surgery.
Seven of the most seriously injured people were transferred to other hospitals. One patient died at Kishwaukee.
"We train for this twice a year. We have preparedness training for disasters, hopefully never to use," said Dr Michael Kulicz, Emergency Services Dir. "We didn't think of how tough it was because we're all trained for that. It wasn't until afterward when all the patients were dispensed did we realize what a tragedy this was."
In December, NIU was closed for one day during final exam week after campus police found threats, including racial slurs and references to shootings earlier in the year at Virginia Tech, scrawled on a bathroom wall in a dormitory. Police determined after an investigation that there was no imminent threat and the campus was reopened. Peters said he knew of no connection between that incident and Thursday's attack.
NIU Memorial Fund
(set up by DeKalb and Sycamore Chambers of Commerce)
DeKalb County Community Foundation
2600 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore, IL 60178.
For more information, call the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, (815) 756-6306.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.
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