Saturday, February 16, 2008

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Ill. gunman's rampage baffles friends

By DEANNA BELLANDI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 47 minutes ago

DEKALB, Ill. - If there is such a thing as a profile of a mass murderer, Steven Kazmierczak didn't fit it: outstanding student, engaging, polite and industrious, with what looked like a bright future in the criminal justice field.

And yet on Thursday, the 27-year-old Kazmierczak, armed with three handguns and a brand-new pump-action shotgun he had carried onto campus in a guitar case, stepped from behind a screen on the stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire on a geology class. He killed five students before committing suicide.

This undated image obtained from a MySpace webpage shows Steven ...
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University Police Chief Donald Grady said, without giving details, that Kazmierczak had become erratic in the past two weeks after he had stopped taking his medication. But that seemed to come as news to many of those who knew him, and the attack itself was positively baffling.

"We had no indications at all this would be the type of person that would engage in such activity," Grady said. He described the gunman as a good student during his time at NIU, and by all accounts a "fairly normal" person.

Exactly what set Kazmierczak off — and why he picked his former university and that particular lecture hall — remained a mystery. Police said they found no suicide note.

Late Friday, a former employee at a Chicago psychiatric treatment center told The Associated Press that Kazmierczak was placed there after high school by his parents. She said he used to cut himself, and had resisted taking his medications.

Authorities also were searching for a woman who police believe may have been Kazmierczak's girlfriend. According to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is still under investigation, authorities were looking into whether Kazmierczak and the woman recently broke up.

Investigators learned that a week ago, on Feb. 9, Kazmierczak walked into a Champaign, gun store and picked up two guns — the Remington shotgun and a Glock 9mm handgun. He bought the two other handguns at the same shop — a Hi-Point .380 on Dec. 30 and a Sig Sauer on Aug. 6.

All four guns were bought legally from a federally licensed firearms dealer, said Thomas Ahern, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. At least one criminal background check was performed. Kazmierczak (pronounced kaz-MUR-chek) had no criminal record.

This combination of five photographs shows the victims of the ...
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Kazmierczak had a State Police-issued FOID, or firearms owners identification card, which is required in Illinois to own a gun, authorities said. Such cards are rarely issued to those with recent mental health problems. The application asks: "In the past five years have you been a patient in any medical facility or part of any medical facility used primarily for the care or treatment of persons for mental illness?"

A Green Bay, Wis.-based Internet gun dealer who sold a weapon to the Virginia Tech shooter last year said he also sold handgun accessories to Kazmierczak.

"I'm still blown away by the coincidences," Eric Thompson said. "I'm shaking. I can't believe somebody would order from us again and do this."

Thompson's Web site,, sold two empty 9 mm Glock magazines and a Glock holster to Kazmierczak on Feb. 4., though he had no idea whether they were used in Thursday's rampage. Thompson said his site did not sell Kazmierczak any bullets or guns.

Kazmierczak, who went by Steve, graduated from NIU in 2007 and was a graduate student in sociology there before leaving last year and moving on to the graduate school of social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 130 miles away.

Unlike Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho — a sullen misfit who could barely look anyone in the eye, much less carry on a conversation — Kazmierczak appeared to fit in just fine.

Chris Larrison, an assistant professor of social work, said Kazmierczak did data entry for Larrison's research grant on mental health clinics. Larrison was stunned by the shooting rampage, as was the gunman's faculty adviser, professor Jan Carter-Black.

"He was engaging, motivated, responsible. I saw nothing to suggest that there was anything troubling about his behavior," she said.

Carter-Black said Kazmierczak wanted to focus on mental health issues and enrolled in August in a course she taught about human behavior and the social environment, but withdrew in September because he had gotten a job with the prison system.

He worked briefly as a full-time corrections officer at the Rockville Correctional Facility, an adult medium-security prison in Rockville, Ind., about 80 miles from Champaign. His tenure there lasted only from Sept. 24 to Oct. 9, after which Indiana prisons spokesman Doug Garrison said "he just didn't show up one day."

Kazmierczak had left the job and resumed classes full-time at the Urbana-Champaign campus in January, Carter-Black said.

He also had a short-lived stint in the Army. He enlisted in the Army in September 2001, but was discharged in February 2002 for an "unspecified" reason, said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

His University of Illinois student ID depicts a smiling, clean-cut Kazmierczak, unlike the scowling, menacing-looking images of Cho that surfaced after his rampage.

NIU President John Peters said Kazmierczak compiled "a very good academic record, no record of trouble" at the 25,000-student campus in DeKalb. He won at least two awards and served as an officer in two student groups dedicated to promoting understanding of the criminal justice system.

Exactly what sort of career he planned for himself was unclear. But he wrote papers on self-injury in prison and the role of religion in the creation of early U.S. prisons. The research paper on self-injury in prison said his interests also included political violence and peace and social justice.

Speaking Friday in Lakeland, Fla., Kazmierczak's distraught father did not immediately provide any clues to what led to the bloodshed.

"Please leave me alone. ... This is a very hard time for me," Robert Kazmierczak told reporters, throwing his arms up and weeping after emerging briefly from his house. He declined further comment about his son and went back inside his house, saying he was diabetic. A sign on the front door said: "Illini fans live here."

In Illinois, the gunman's sister, Susan Kazmierczak, posted a statement on the door of her Urbana home that said "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."

Neighbors in the brick apartment building in Champaign where Kazmierczak last lived were shocked to hear he was the gunman.

Kazmierczak grew up in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, not far from O'Hare Airport. His family lived most recently in a middle-class neighborhood of mostly one-story tract homes before moving away early in this decade. His mother died in Florida in 2006 at age 58.

He was a B student at Elk Grove High School, where school district spokeswoman Venetia Miles said he was active in band and took Japanese before graduating in 1998. He was also in the chess club.

Kazmierczak spent more than a year at the Thresholds-Mary Hill House in the late 1990s, former house manager Louise Gbadamashi told the AP.

"He never wanted to identify with being mentally ill," she said. "That was part of the problem."

A man who answered the telephone at Mary Hill House on Friday night referred questions to officials in the company's corporate office. They did not immediately return messages left after business hours.

At NIU, six white crosses were placed on a snow-covered hill around the center of campus, which was closed Friday. They included the names of four victims — Daniel Parmenter, Ryanne Mace, Julianna Gehant, Catalina Garcia. The two other crosses were blank, though officials have identified Kazmierczak's final victim as Gayle Dubowski.

Allyse Jerome, 19, a sophomore from Schaumburg, recalled how the gunman, dressed in black and a stocking cap, burst through a stage door in 200-seat Cole Hall just before class was about to let out. He squeezed off more than 50 shots as screaming students ran and crawled for cover.

"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 going to get me."


Associated Press writers Tamara Starks, Don Babwin, Caryn Rousseau, Ashley M. Heher, Dave Carpenter, Carla K. Johnson, Lindsey Tanner, David Mercer, Nguyen Huy Vu, Michael Tarm and Mike Robinson in Chicago, Anthony McCartney in Lakeland, Fla., and Matt Apuzzo and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report, along with the AP News Research Center in New York.

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