Latest news: Investigators, loved ones try to reconcile the 2 sides of NIU gunman


Latest news: Investigators, loved ones try to reconcile the 2 sides of NIU gunman


Ken Shold, an NIU almunus and father of a current student, sheds tears while praying in front of Cole Hall on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008, on the Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb.

Feb 16, 2008 @ 09:40 PM

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Steven Kazmierczak had the look of a boyish graduate student — except for the disturbing tattoos that covered his arms.

9:40 p.m. NIU plans scholarship fund in honor of victims
Authorities at NIU said they were creating a scholarship fund in honor of the slain students and also are discussing how to build a permanent on-campus memorial.

8:18 p.m. Virginia Tech plans virgil for NIU shooting victims
Virginia Tech plans to have a candlelight vigil on Monday to show support for those affected by the shootings at Northern Illinois University.

Hokies United, the student group that formed after the April shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 dead, organized the vigil and has asked the university community to wear
NIU's school colors of red and black as a sign of support and solidarity on Monday.

Hokies United will also temporarily lay a red and black Hokie Stone near the campus memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the April 16 shootings. Students plan to deliver the stone to Northern Illinois, in DeKalb, Ill., in a week or so.

On Thursday, a 27-year-old former NIU student opened fire on a geology class, killing five people before committing suicide.

The shooting brought back horrific memories for the Virginia Tech community, still reeling from its own tragedy. Many people on campus donned red and black on Friday in a show of support.

The latest shooting also left some families of the Virginia Tech victims feeling anguished.

"It just brings it all back. I can't imagine what they're going through, but I know what they're going through," said Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was injured in the Tech shootings and appeared in a now-famous photograph being carried by rescue workers with a tourniquet around his leg. "I feel their pain, and I feel their loss."

Sterne, who returned to Blacksburg to pursue a master's degree, is deeply upset by the latest shootings, and is concerned about entering a classroom, said Grimes, of Eighty Four, Pa. He hopes to reach out to the victims' families and the survivors of the Illinois shooting, she said.

Virginia Tech president Charles Steger also expressed sympathy for the NIU community.

"This horrific news will certainly bring to mind the hurt, pain, and trauma we experienced less than a year ago," Steger wrote in a message posted on the university's web site.

"I have sent my condolences and offer of assistance to the president of NIU. Our university community was bolstered and comforted by the outpouring of support from campuses around the nation and the world," Steger said. "I am sure that expressions of support from the Virginia Tech community will mean much to that now suffering campus community."

6:15 p.m. Students agree closing Cole Hall right move
The decision to close Cole Hall, the scene of Thursday's shootings that left six dead, was the right one, said Lee Blank, an NIU student working toward a postgraduate journalism degree.

"It would just be wrong ethically, I think, to have to open that building up again and go to class there," he said.

The school has asked faculty members to return to campus Tuesday and classes will resume Feb. 25. Teachers and staff will receive extensive training on how to help students cope with returning to class. Student associations are putting a series of activities and events together to keep students busy during the days ahead.

All university events, including athletic competitions, remain canceled through Feb. 24.

"The last thing on people's minds right now is going back to class," said NIU junior Michelle Rzepka, who said she'd spend Monday attending the funeral of fellow classmate Daniel Parmenter.

NIU will increase police presence when classes resume. The school's 45 to 50 sworn officers will be bolstered by private security guards, and police officers from DeKalb and surrounding counties will be added, NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said.

An extra week will be added to the school year. The May 10 graduation commencement has been rescheduled to May 17. Officials have made no decision about how to handle questions about academic grades or refunds for students who do not return to school immediately or at all.

Magara offered no new details about the ongoing investigation into the shooting. Authorities intend to interview the 160 or so people who were in the Cole Hall auditorium where the shooting took place, but those interviews aren't yet finished, she said.

She read a written statement from NIU President John Peters, who urged students, faculty and residents to "take care of ourselves and take care of each other" as the community copes in the days and weeks ahead.

"Let us continue to show the world that an act of violence does not define us," Peters said.

5:04 p.m. Classes at NIU to resume Feb. 25
Classes at Northern Illinois University will be postponed for another week, with students scheduled to return Feb. 25, the university announced this afternoon.

Faculty and staff will return Tuesday, according to Melanie Margara, assistant vice president of public affairs.

Margara said the weeklong delay will mean a week will be added to the end of the semester. She said this week will be used to train staff on how to work with students in the aftermath of the shooting and give the university staff and students time to recover from the event.

"In the end, the decision ... ultimately gave us a little more breathing time," she said.
Margara said Cole Hall, the building where the shooting took place, will be closed for the rest of the academic year. Beyond that, its future is unknown.

4:57 p.m. Seven victims of NIU shooting remain hospitalized
Seven people remain hospitalized after the shooting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

Three of the patients are listed in serious condition -- including one who was upgraded from critical. The other four patients are listed in fair condition.

They are at hospitals in DeKalb, Rockford, Downers Grove and Chicago.

A 27-year-old graduate student from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign killed five people in a NIU lecture hall Thursday before killing himself.

3:35 p.m. Mother of victim retains her faith in goodness
After learning of the death of her son, it would have been easy for Linda Greer to withdraw into her grief and shun the rest of the world.

But the Elmhurst resident publicly reaffirmed her faith in God and her hope for humanity, even while family and friends struggled to cope with the tragedy that took her son's life.

Dan Parmenter, a 20-year-old sophomore at Northern Illinois University, died Thursday after a former NIU student shot and killed five people in a classroom before taking his own life.

Shortly after a vigil held Friday evening, Greer shared her thoughts about her son with members of the media.

"He was always special," Greer said. "From the time he was a little boy, he was fearless, and he was inquisitive and he loved people. And the character traits just continued to grow as he did."

Greer said her son grew up in Elmhurst and became an integral part of the community. And though she wasn't pleased that Parmenter joined a fraternity when he went away to NIU, he used the occasion to do some good by organizing bingo nights with his frat brothers at a nursing home, Greer said.

Greer expressed her hope that the goodness in people like her son will triumph over the evil that took his life.

"I just want people to know that Dan is gone. It was evil that his life was taken," Greer said. "There is no way to make sense of it. But because I know that so many people are praying for us and are holding us up, there is hope for the future. Evil is not going to overcome good in this world as long as there are people of God and people are praying."

The Friday vigil was held at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, just southeast of York Community High School. Parmenter graduated from York in 2006.

3:29 p.m. NIU response helped by Virginia Tech lessons
Northern Illinois University's response to Thursday's shooting rampage may have been helped by what state officials learned from last year's massacre at Virginia Tech University.

A Campus Safety Task Force was created to see what could be learned from the Virginia Tech incident and how those lessons could be implemented here.
Representatives from state colleges and universities, including NIU, attended task force meetings. One of the most important lessons discussed was getting information to students as quickly as possible.

"The response at Northern Illinois, from our standpoint, was extraordinary," said Mike Chamness, chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force.

Students were notified within 20 minutes that a shooting occurred, to take cover and stay away from some parts of the campus, Chamness said. At Virginia Tech, it took more than two hours to issue an alert.

Students at NIU also were relaying text messages to each other. One idea discussed by the task force was that colleges should use multiple means to convey an emergency message to students, including encouraging the use of text messaging.

Rep. Rich Myers, R-Colchester, said Western Illinois University in his district just went through a drill to notify students in case of emergency.

"They sent text messages to cell phones, voice mail, e-mail," Myers said. "As I understand it, it was a very successful test."

What to do after an emergency is only part of the task force's responsibility. It is also examining prevention. A full report is scheduled to be delivered April 1.

"A mental health survey is still being completed," Chamness said. "That purpose is to look at ways to identify potential issues and how to deal with those, how to get help to those people."

That will probably require the assistance of students themselves.

"Be alert. If you see something that looks suspicious, don't be shy or embarrassed about picking up the phone and calling law enforcement authorities," Chamness advised. "You may be the person who helps prevent something."

At the same time, Chamness said there didn't seem to be the "red flags" in the NIU case that there were at Virginia Tech.

"I don't think there's a panacea out there for how you stop this," he said. "You're talking about somebody who walked into a classroom."

Chamness said state officials will meet with NIU staff in coming weeks to assess what happened and what parts of the response plan worked and if any didn't.

Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he wants two House committees — Higher Education and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness — to convene a joint session in a few weeks to review the NIU situation.

"I want to have a joint hearing once reports are released and more information can be obtained as to how we can be better informed and better prepared," said Brady whose district includes Illinois State University. "Even though it looks like everyone worked in synch, there's always something to learn."
3:18 p.m. Godfather of NIU shooter: Reunion planned for today
Richard Grafer was supposed to have breakfast with his godson Saturday. Instead, Grafer is mourning him.

Grafer, godfather to NIU gunman Steven Kazmierczak, said he lost touch with his godson about 15 years ago, when the boy was 12. He wouldn't say why.

it changed about four weeks ago, when Kazmierczak called Grafer at about 10:30 p.m. to reconnect.

"He says, 'Hi, Uncle Rich.' I said 'Who is this?'" Grafer said in a phone interview this morning. "He told me it was Stephen."

The conversation led to an apology from Grafer for not showing up when Kazmierczak's mother, Gail, died in September 2006. They talked about fishing together, which they'd done in the past, Grafer said.

"We had a lot of fun together," he said. "He was a good kid."

Grafer said he thought Kazmierczak had a girlfriend, though he did not know her name. He also said he was unaware of what kind of medication Kazmierczak had been taking before he stopped, which made him "erratic" over the past several weeks, authorities have said, before he shot and killed five NIU students and himself Thursday at Cole Hall.

Grafer and Kazmierczak, 27, would have reunited today.

"This is hard for me. He was supposed to stay at my house today," Grafer said. "He said he wanted to get back in touch and do things."

2:24 p.m. Blackhawks to honor victims of NIU tragedy
The Chicago Blackhawks announced today that they will pay their respects to the six lives that were lost in the tragic shooting on the campus of nearby Northern Illinois University by wearing a Huskies decal on the back of their helmets for the game Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche. The decal will be a replica of the overlay of a black ribbon and Northern Illinois Huskies logo that appears on the university's official Web site.

The team will also observe a moment of silence before the anthem for Sunday's game to allow fans to pay their respects to six bright young lives that were senselessly taken from us.

The team will wear the decals for their road game against St. Louis on Tuesday and again at home against Minnesota on Wednesday.

1 p.m. NIU athletic department implemented crisis plan after Va. Tech shootings
After the Virginia Tech shootings in April, the Northern Illinois athletic department upgraded its emergency crisis plan, just in case.

"You hope you never have to use it," athletic director Jim Phillips said.

Tragically, the plan was put into action Thursday afternoon after a 27-year-old man walked into Cole Hall and opened fire at 3:07 p.m., killing five students before taking his own life at the school's DeKalb., Ill., campus.

No student-athletes were among the dead or wounded.

Drew Jeskey, a midfielder on the Huskies soccer team, was in the lecture hall during the shooting but escaped. Tim Mayerbock, an offensive guard on the school's football team, was just outside Cole Hall at the time of the shooting and helped a wounded student.

"The student got hit with some pellets off of one of the shotgun shells, was not in critical condition but was certainly injured," Phillips told on Friday night. "Tim and his friend helped the kid to safety and also took him to the hospital. He really jumped in at a horrific moment."

The tragedy hit especially close for Phillips, who received a message from his wife late Thursday night that their niece was in the lecture hall but didn't attend because she was sick.

"Our hearts are broken, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," Phillips said. "But we will not be deterred. We're going to get stronger from this event."

Phillips was in a meeting at the athletic department offices Thursday afternoon when university president John Peters called to inform him of the shooting. Department staff members immediately contacted the school's 17 varsity head coaches, who started the process of accounting for all of their athletes.

Phillips went to inform the women's basketball team, which was practicing at the Convocation Center when the shootings occurred. He also had NIU's academic advisor check if any athletes were attending the geology class. They found out several hours after the shooting that Jeskey was safe.

"I'm very proud of our staff and our coaches," Phillips said. "We were able to get a hold of all of our kids through text messaging, e-mails, phone calls, voicemails, cell phones, on-campus phones. I pray that we never have to go through this horrific tragedy ever again."

After an emergency meeting with the school's administration, Phillips cancelled all athletic activities scheduled for the weekend. Athletes were given the option to go home, and counselors were provided for those who remained on campus.

No decision has been made on when athletic events will resume. Teams likely will make tributes to the shooting victims.

"It's still a little bit premature," Phillips said. "We're certainly going to do something. To what extent, we haven't made any final decisions."

Phillips spent much of Thursday night with Peters and other school officials at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, where 18 gunshot victims were transported. Around 10:30 p.m., he spoke with Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver.

"He was absolutely wonderful," Phillips said. "I just tried to seek his guidance and counsel to make sure we were making the proper decisions. He felt like we were doing a very good job. That was reaffirming."

12:22 p.m. Media at NIU 'just doing their jobs'
Camera lenses from around the world focused on DeKalb this week, dwarfing this university town of about 40,000 residents with their presence.

Hundreds of reporters swarmed the campus after it played an unlikely home to the country's third deadliest college shooting in history when Stephen Kazmierczak shot and killed five of his classmates and turned the gun on himself on the stage of Cole Hall. By early Friday morning, a Fox News helicopter buzzed above King Commons, drowning the whispers of several students praying below.

The news crews stuck around Friday, perching their satellites and umbrella reflectors outside Altgeld Hall before filling the auditorium. Reporters inside donned badges from outlets as far away as they Los Angeles Times, TIME magazine and Spanish-language network Telemundo. Waiting for debriefings, they slugged down coffee and swapped memories of other national tragedies they've covered. Afterward, they staked out every cranny of the campus; antennae peeped from behind rows of stone buildings.

The scene was decidedly quieter Saturday morning. Altgeld Hall, which served as a kind of hostel for media, sat empty. But growling TV trucks sat stationed at hotels around DeKalb, waiting to make their next move.

"I think it's good," resident David Castro said of the extra attention the community is receiving, though he never expected it. "They're just doing their jobs."

Castro works at Black Stone Restaurant on Lincoln Highway, where patrons on Friday seemed equally fixated by media accounts of the massacre. At breakfast, they're eyes were glued to televisions where scrolling headlines pumped details of the violence.

"You really don't think it's here, in your home town," resident Jim Smith said. "It feels like it's happening somewhere else."

11:18 a.m. NIU students search for distractions
Dennis Hadley walked out of a candlelight vigil in the Holmes Student Center with tear-stained eyes. But by Sunday, the DeKalb native will be through with crying. He is packing up his wife Susan and daughter Bethany and driving to the Chicago Auto Show.

"It's a distraction," said Hadley, a 44-year-old graduate student enrolled in NIU's accounting program. "For a few hours, I'll fantasize about this new car or that new car."

Hadley's Huskie roots run deep. His father worked at the university as a janitor and security guard. His uncle worked there as an equipment manager. His wife is a graduate, and his daughter is a senior who plans to graduate alongside her father in May.

"You never think a tragedy like this will happen in your hometown," Hadley said. "This is the stuff that happens on TV. It happens somewhere else. It's not supposed to happen in a rural community like this, but it has. We're not safe out here anymore, out here in our corn."

Talking about the tragedy is helping Hadley cope. He spent Friday and Saturday e-mailing and phoning students and colleagues he works alongside. They swapped stories about where they were when the campus was locked down and the minutes and hours that followed the shooting rampage Thursday.

Hadley was in an accounting class with 30 other students at Barsema Hall, a block and a half northeast of Cole Hall where the shooting occurred.

"Everyone's cell phones started going off and we knew something was wrong," he said. "But then we tried calling people and none of our phones worked because the lines were overloaded. We we're stuck inside the building until sometime after 4 p.m. I wasn't able to talk to my wife until about 4:45 p.m. I didn't talk to my daughter until 7:30 p.m. that night. Everyone I knew was fine. Shaken, but fine."

Hadley said he's been crying a lot. His daughter Bethany, an NIU gymnast working toward an education degree, didn't want to go with her dad to the vigil today.

"She wanted to sleep instead," her father said. "I know time will heal the wounds, I just don't know how much time."

10:24 a.m.: Police seize computer from hotel where gunman stayed
Steven Kazmierczak checked into a hotel near campus three days before carrying out his deadly shooting spree at Northern Illinois University, paying cash and signing his name only as "Steven" on a slip of paper, according to the hotel manager.

Kazmierczak last was seen at the Travelodge, where he smoked cigarettes and downed energy drinks and cold medicine, on Tuesday, hotel manager Jay Patel said.

A newspaper report said that authorities found a duffel bag that Kazmierczak had left in the room, the zippers glued shut. A bomb squad was called, but investigators found ammunition inside the bag, the newspaper reported, citing law-enforcement sources.

Kazmierczak also left behind a laptop computer, which was seized by investigators, Patel told The Associated Press today.

"It's scary," said Patel, adding that he called police when he found the laptop and clothes, but "nobody's in the room."

The discoveries added to the puzzles surrounding Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old graduate student some called quiet, dependable and fun-loving who returned to his alma mater on Valentine's Day, leaving five people dead before turning a gun on himself.

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

He also had a short-lived stint as a prison guard that ended abruptly when he didn't show up for work. He was in the Army for about six months in 2001-02, but he told a friend he'd gotten a psychological discharge.

Exactly what set Kazmierczak off, and why he picked his former university and that particular lecture hall, remained a mystery.

On Thursday, Kazmierczak, armed with three handguns and a pump-action shotgun, stepped from behind a screen on the lecture hall's stage and opened fire on a geology class. He killed five students before committing suicide.

University Police Chief Donald Grady said Friday that Kazmierczak had become erratic in the past two weeks after he stopped taking his medication.

Kazmierczak spent more than a year at the Thresholds-Mary Hill House in the late 1990s, former house manager Louise Gbadamashi told The Associated Press. His parents placed him there after high school because he had become "unruly" at home, she said.

Gbadamashi said she couldn't remember any instances of him being violent.

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

The attack was baffling to many of those who knew him.

"Steve was the most gentle, quiet guy in the world. ... He had a passion for helping people," said Jim Thomas, an emeritus professor of sociology and criminology at Northern Illinois who taught Kazmierczak, promoted him to a teacher's aide and became his friend.

Kazmierczak once told Thomas about getting a discharge from the Army.

"It was no major deal, a kind of incompatibility discharge — for a state of mind, not for any behavior," Thomas said. "He was concerned that that on his record might be a stigma."

Kazmierczak enlisted in September 2001, but was discharged in February 2002 for an "unspecified" reason, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.

He worked from Sept. 24 to Oct. 9 as a corrections officer at the Rockville Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Rockville, Ind. His tenure there ended when "he just didn't show up one day," Indiana prisons spokesman Doug Garrison said.

9:16 a.m.: NIU still unsure when classes will resume
NIU administrators are "still pondering" when the campus will open and classes will restart, Pat Erickson, a university spokeswoman, said this morning.

Erickson said administrators are meeting sometime this morning to discuss how to proceed. She was unaware of any plans for the future of Cole Hall, where Stephen Kazmierczak shot and killed five students and himself Thursday. Classes and events at NIU since have been canceled.

"(Administrators) are taking in all the information as they're getting it," said Erickson, who did not know when more information about NIU's future would be made public.

She is steering people to NIU's Web site,, for more information.

She said any new information would be posted as a "status update."

7:12 a.m.: NIU campus quieter; memorials draw attention
The NIU campus is decidedly quieter this morning, as TV satellites and a flurry of reporters who stormed the campus Friday have appeared to disperse.

Only a few photographers are lingering, milling about the makeshift memorials that have sprung up around campus. Students, who gathered last night for several candlelight vigils also have retreated. But their memorials continue to grow.

At Lucinda Street and Normal Road, a memorial with candles and posters offering prayers and messages of support remains. And near the Holmes Student Center, students have placed a sign that reads "We Are NIU," where hundreds have signed their names and light candles.

6:20 a.m.: Tips offer help for grieving NIU students
Northern Illinois University officials have issued a tip sheet for grieving students who are struggling to understand how a shooting rampage could take place on the university campus.

The paper from the Counseling and Student Development Center and the American Psychological Association says it's typical for people to experience a variety of emotions after the tragic massacre.

"You may find that you have trouble sleeping, concentrating, eating, or remembering even simple tasks," the paper states. "This is common and should pass after awhile. Over time the caring support of family and friends can help to lessen the emotional impact and ultimately make the changes brought by the tragedy more manageable."

Tips include:

Talk about it: Ask for support from people around you. They'll listen to your concerns and your feelings. They will comfort you. Counseling services are available through the NIU Counseling and Student Development Center. It can be reached at 815-753-1206. The center is in the Campus Life Building at the corner of Lucinda and Normal.

Strive for balance: Balance pessimistic or negative outlooks or thoughts by reminding yourself of the people and events that are meaningful and comforting.

Turn it off: Take a break from the news. Overexposing yourself to news of the tragedy can increase stress. Instead, focus on something you enjoy for awhile.

Take care of yourself: Engage in healthy behaviors that help you cope. Exercise and eat healthy meals. Avoid alcohol or drugs because they might intensify emotional or physical pain.

6:06 a.m.: Cleanup crews leave; news crews remain at NIU
Crews from Aftermath Inc., a company that specializes in cleaning after homicides, self-inflicted gunshot wounds and unintended deaths worked through the night at Cole Hall on the Northern Illinois University campus.

The crews, dressed in plain clothes, appeared to complete their work just before 5 a.m., loading black garbage bags of materials into three utility vans before driving away.

Cole Hall remains cordoned off behind yellow police tape.

Meanwhile, media crews already are set up just beyond the police tape, preparing for another day of coverage of the tragedy.

News vans that had parked just before 5 a.m. on the sidewalk outside of Kings Commons in view of Cole Hall, the scene of a bloody rampage Thursday, were told to relocate by police officers.

5:11 a.m.: Chambers of commerce set up NIU memorial fund
The DeKalb and Sycamore chambers of commerce have established an NIU memorial fund through the DeKalb County Community Foundation.

Donations may be sent to DCCF, 2600 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore, IL 60178.

For information, call the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, 815-756-6306.

Donate online through PayPal on the National Bank & Trust Co. Web site.

5:02 a.m.: Private company begins Cole Hall cleanup
A private company has begun cleaning up Cole Hall after Thursday's bloody rampage.

Three utility vans with Aftermath Inc. painted on their side were spotted just before 5 a.m., parked outside the building on the NIU campus.

Several men, some dressed in shorts and T-shirts, were seen carrying trash bags from the crime scene and placing them into the vans.

According to its Web site, the Oswego-based company specializes in "crime scene and tragedy cleanup."

3:55 a.m.: Friends of NIU victim pay respects
It's quiet on the Northern Illinois University campus where memorial candles still burn despite the severe cold and frigid breeze.

Hours earlier, standing before one of several makeshift memorials scattered throughout the campus, Sarah Hilby and Ashley Leach embraced. They left three roses and candles in memory of those killed this week in a mass shooting.

"We wanted to pay our respects at least in this way," said Leach, 20, an NIU sophomore.

Both were friends with Daniel Parmenter, one of five NIU students killed Thursday afternoon by Stephen Kazmierczak, an NIU alumnus.

"We knew (Parmenter) from freshman year," Leach said. "He was around our room a lot at Lincoln Hall."

Dennis O'Brien, an auto mechanic in Oswego, said he came along to pay his respects.

"It's just tough," O'Brien said. "It's an upsetting thing and to just pass it by, people don't pay attention, people don't care. Columbine is so far away you don't think it affects you. But this is so close it's a lot more upsetting."

2:12 a.m.: 'I wanted to be around people who could understand'
Northern Illinois University alumnus Andrew Crow relit memorial candles, straightened others that had fallen over and tended the makeshift memorial on a hill bordering the Kings Commons shortly after midnight.

From there, Cole Hall — where five students were shot to death and up to 18 others wounded before the gunman killed himself a day earlier — can be seen about 150 yards away.

An electrical engineer who graduated in December 2005 from NIU, Crow said he needed this. Tending the memorial is his way of paying respect to the dead and wounded.

"This is more for myself," Crow said. "I needed people who know what I was feeling. I wanted to be around people who could understand."

In the wee, frigid hours of Saturday morning, dozens of folks are still walking from memorial to memorial, looking for solace. Looking for solidarity. And looking to come to grips with what, until Valentine's Day, had been unimaginable.

Crosses taller than a man stand vigil at the corner of Lucinda and Normal just outside the Lutheran Campus Ministries. There, NIU student Amber Larson, 21, of Stillman Valley paused with friends to write a message.

Larson said the vigils on campus have given her some measure of comfort as grief has replaced yesterday's shocked disbelief of the massacre.

"The vigil was good," Larson said. "It was nice to have a sense of community and know people are there for us."

1:55 a.m.: Mourners pay respects for victims of 'selfish act'
Northern Illinois University is a campus in stunned grief.

Outside the Lutheran Campus Ministries stand six crosses about 6 feet tall symbolizing the six who were left dead after a vicious attack on a Geology 104 class in Cole Hall on Thursday. Across the street at the corner of Normal and Lucinda, dozens of candles and posters have been left by mourners on a snowbank.

Bridget Buehler, 19, of DeKalb, a sophomore NIU student, left candles at the makeshift memorials, paying her respects to the dead.

"Everyone is trying to band together," Buehler said. "I think everyone still thinks it's somewhat surreal. Growing up here has made it difficult to deal with. You never think something like this will happen in your town. I never felt unsafe here or worried about anything. I had a class in that room."

Where once virtually all felt safe on this campus that's still surrounded by cornfields despite significant commercial growth over the past decade, that cloak of security has been ripped away.

Dave Kupcinet of Chicago came here to pay his respects along with girlfriend Chrissy Clark, a student from Pacific College in Chicago. They came looking for answers.

How could someone do something like this?

But Kupcinet said perhaps he knew all along there would be no answers.

"Parents feel their kids are in college, in a classroom or a dorm room and they are safe," Kupcinet said. "No place is safe anywhere. It's an unbelievable tragedy that something like this could happen. What a selfish act. It's hard to accept. I can't imagine your college carreer being broken apart by something like this. Why did it happen? Who knows."

1:22 a.m.: NIU gunman's deadly rampage baffles many who knew him
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.

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.

But other details of his life emerged on Friday, including short-lived stints as a prison guard and service in the military. Kazmierczak enlisted in the Army in September 2001, but was discharged in February 2002 for an "unspecified" reason, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.

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

And he worked briefly as a full-time correction 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, 2007, after which Indiana prisons spokesman Doug Garrison said "he just didn't show up one day." He said he didn't know if Kazmierczak had tried to get his job back.

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.
Authorities 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.

In Chicago, FBI spokesman Ross Rice said, "I know that we're looking for a roommate, but I don't know whether it is a girlfriend or not."

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.

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?"

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 in 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 resumed classes full-time in January, Carter-Black said.

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."

A statement posted on the door on the Urbana home of Kazmierczak's sister 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.

"It's not possible," said Maurice Darling, 80, who lives in an adjacent second-floor apartment. "He seemed to be much too nice."

He said the tall, thin and bespectacled Kazmierczak shared the apartment with a woman and neither showed any sign of anger or aggression. "They were friendly, agreeable — just like any neighbor would be," he said.

Chelsea Thrash, a 25-year-old waitress who lives with her 3-year-old daughter in the apartment directly beneath Kazmierczak's, said he was always up late and there was frequently a lot of "trampling" noise coming through the hardwood floor. She went up and knocked on the door once recently at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. to request quiet and he said through the closed door, "Oh, I'm sorry — I dropped my weight."

"It's kind of creepy," she said. "I never thought someone in this tiny corner of southwest Champaign would ever dream of that, let alone carry it out, and have that above me and my daughter."

Kazmierczak grew up in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, not far from O'Hare International 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. She said his parents placed him after high school because he had become "unruly" at home. She also said he used to cut himself for attention.

She said he often resisted taking his medications, though he eventually became "compliant." Gbadamashi said she couldn't remember any instances of Kazmierczak being violent.

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.

By Friday night, dozens of candles flickered in packed snow at makeshift memorials around campus as hundreds of students, mostly wearing NIU red and black, formed a standing-room-only crowd at an evening memorial service.

"It's kind of overwhelming. It feels strong, it feels like we're all in this together," said Carlee Siggeman, 18, a freshman from Genoa who attended the vigil with a group of friends.

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RRSTAR (story)/ALAN LEON (photo), “Latest news: Investigators, loved ones try to reconcile the 2 sides of NIU gunman,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,