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AP Stories on NIU Shootings

Edited/Updated 2/20.

Gunman's Friendly Exterior Masked Past
NIU Shootings Stir Sense of Helplessness
Terrifying Final Moments in NIU Hall
Police Investigate NIU Shooter's 2 Sides
Gunman Called Girlfriend to Say Goodbye
City Takes College Attack Personally
Chicago's Suburbs Grieve NIU Victims
NIU Community Wonders: Why Cole Hall?

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Gunman's Friendly Exterior Masked Past
Feb 16, 9:42 AM (ET)

By ASHLEY M. HEHER and CARYN ROUSSEAU

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - Steven Kazmierczak's quiet, dependable and fun-loving exterior masked troubling details from his past that emerged as a stunned community struggled to understand what caused the 27-year-old to open fire on a class at Northern Illinois University, leaving six people dead.

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.

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.

On Feb. 9, Kazmierczak walked into a Champaign gun store and picked up two guns - a 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 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.

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.

Kazmierczak (pronounced kaz-MUR-chek) grew up in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village. 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.

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

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 the school colors of red and black, packed a 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 friends.

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Associated Press writers Don Babwin, Deanna Bellandi, Dave Carpenter, Tamara Starks, 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.



NIU Shootings Stir Sense of Helplessness
Feb 16, 7:39 AM (ET)

By SHARON COHEN

Bloody students fleeing in terror. Bodies carried out on stretchers. Candlelight vigils and makeshift shrines. Another campus, another deadly attack with a sickening senselessness that now borders on routine.

Despite a national push to secure schools after the Virginia Tech shootings, the rampage at Northern Illinois University this week proves a gut-wrenching reality: Unless colleges are willing to turn themselves into armed camps, they're helpless against these kinds of attacks.

As word of the shootings rippled throughout the country, students and authorities alike reacted with frustration and - tellingly - resignation.

"I don't think there's anything that could be done," said Brittany Dornack, 21, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota.

"People do what they feel like they need to do, and I don't think anyone is going to be able to stop them. People will just have to either learn to live in fear ... or they'll just have to not think about it."

The gunman this time, Steven Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old NIU graduate, opened fire Thursday afternoon in a lecture hall, killing five students and injuring more than a dozen others in a rapid-fire assault that lasted just a few minutes. He committed suicide on the stage.

Authorities responded quickly; the first 10 police officers were on the scene in 90 seconds. NIU launched its emergency alert system - a carefully rehearsed plan developed after Virginia Tech - sending out e-mails and messages on Web sites to notify students that a possible gunman was on campus and they needed to find a safe area.

"We had a plan in place," said NIU President John Peters. "We did everything we could to ensure the safety of this university ... Nothing is perfect, but I believe it did work."

The plan will be reviewed, he said, but it and others like it are response plans, meant to contain the carnage rather than keep it from happening. As NIU Police Chief Donald Grady said, there is no foolproof way to prevent this type of tragedy.

"I wish I could tell you that there was a panacea for this kind of a thing, but you've noticed that there's been multiple shootings all over this country within the past six months," he said. "It's a horrible circumstance, and as much as we do it's unlikely that anyone would ever have the ability to stop an incident like this from beginning."

That sober assessment weighed on the minds of NIU students who piled suitcases and laundry bags into cars Friday and left the nearly empty, snow-covered campus, apprehensive about their eventual return.

"You're scared to go to school lecture halls and I'm going to be looking over my shoulder and skeptical of people coming to class late," said Allison Warren, a 20-year-old NIU student. "You kind of think it won't happen around here. It could happen anywhere. It could happen anywhere and there's no way of really protecting yourself."

NIU, which is spread over 755 acres, illustrates the difficulty in protecting college campuses that have scores, or hundreds of buildings. Locking them, installing metal detectors or putting security personnel in each of them are not considered practical security measures.

The shootings, of course, have renewed questions about the availability of guns - Kazmierczak bought all four guns legally from the same shop in Champaign, Ill. - and the tricky balance in keeping public places accessible but safe.

"People ask the question, 'Can you stop it?' That demonstrates the bigger question: 'Can we stop it anywhere?'" asked Jonathan Kassa, executive director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit group in Pennsylvania. "College and university campuses are not perfect oases. This is not the ivory tower."

Kassa said NIU's plan appears to have prevented more deaths.

"The lesson to be drawn from this is that it could have been worse if people were not prepared," he said. "Colleges and university campuses are unique but they must be seen as communities like everything else."

Still, the freer environment of campuses also can pose security risks, said Ron Stephens, director of the National School Safety Center in California.

"For the most part, college and university campuses are much more wide open to the public," he said. "There's not a lot of screening done for students. There are probably few institutions that screen ... to see if someone coming on campus has a troubled or checkered past."

Others pointed out that violence is not limited to college campuses. In the past two weeks, there have been fatal shootings at a Louisiana vocational college in the urban setting of Baton Rouge, a Missouri city hall and a clothing chain store in suburban Chicago.

"People go crazy whether it's at a school or at a workplace. ... You can't live your life not going to class," said Barbara Coons, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Pennsylvania.

That may be harder to say on campus ripped raw by violence.

"My dad was saying last year, 'I'm really glad you go to Northern where stuff like that doesn't happen,'" said Bryce Lack, a 19-year-old NIU student, referring to the Virginia Tech massacre. "You look at everybody differently now."

Desiree Smith was in the geology class when Kazmierczak opened fire. She dropped to the floor as he squeezed off shots, grabbing another terrified student's leg as a show of support.

She crawled first, then got up and ran for her life.

She doesn't care how common such shootings have become - they make no sense to her.

"I don't understand why you'd want to go to a random place and hurt random people you've never met," she said. ... "I really hate it. I wish we could figure out how to solve this problem because it makes me sick."

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Associated Press writer Elizabeth Dunbar in Minneapolis contributed to this report.



Terrifying Final Moments in NIU Hall
Feb 16, 6:52 PM (ET)

By DON BABWIN

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - When Steven Kazmierczak strode from behind a screen onto the stage of a Northern Illinois University lecture hall carrying four guns, he saw rows of students lined up in an auditorium that sloped toward him.

It took no more than two minutes from the first 911 call for campus police to make it into the Cole Hall room, yet by the time they rushed in, three students and the gunman lay dead, two more were mortally wounded and terrified students were still bolting for the exits.

As bad as it was - 16 others were hurt - it quickly became clear that Thursday's carnage could have been far greater.

Investigators recovered 48 shell casings and six shotgun shells, but also discovered that Kazmierczak had pouches of unspent ammunition around his waist and hadn't unholstered one of his four weapons. University officials said the rapid response by campus police and plans put in place after the attacks at Virginia Tech also kept Kazmierczak from causing more harm.

"In spite of the enormity of this tragedy, it could have been worse," NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said Friday.

The 27-year-old Kazmierczak was spotted Thursday afternoon walking the short distance between his car and Cole Hall carrying a guitar case; police determined that's how he concealed the 12-gauge shotgun.

He entered through a back door, NIU Police Chief Donald Grady said, and moved forward, the shotgun announcing his purpose.

"The barrel was the first thing in the room," said John Giovanni, 20, a student in the geology class.

Kazmierczak said nothing as he took a few steps toward the front of the stage, appearing neither hurried nor agitated. The instructor may have never even seen him.

"The teacher had his back to the students," said George Gaynor, 23, who also was in the class.

Witnesses said Kazmierczak pumped the weapon, preparing to fire. He didn't seem to be aiming at anyone or anything, Giovanni said. Instead, he just pointed the gun in the direction of the largest concentration of students in the middle of the room.

At 3:06 p.m., he pulled the trigger.

"He was shooting from the hip. He was just shooting," said Giovanni, 20, of Des Plaines, who ran from the room so fast that he lost a shoe. "I was running but I was hurtling over people in the fetal position."

Students jumped up and ran as the sound of the shotgun and handgun rang in their ears.

The chief, who led the first team of officers into the hall, said that a total of 10 officers were at the hall within two minutes, but that enough time had passed for Kazmierczak to reload the shotgun.

Pistols blazing, Kazmierczak left the stage and walked up one aisle toward the back of the auditorium, then across the room and down the other aisle, said Larry Trent, director of the Illinois State Police. Kazmierczak then went back up onstage and killed himself, Trent said.

Since the shootings, the campus has been almost deserted. On Friday, a few students placed flowers at crosses that had been planted in the snow and wondered whether they would ever be able to regain a sense of security.

"It does make you scared to go to school," said Allison Warren, 20, of the Quad Cities. "I'm going to be looking over my shoulder and skeptical of people coming into class late."

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Associated Press writers Ashley M. Heher and Caryn Rousseau contributed to this report.



Police Investigate NIU Shooter's 2 Sides
Feb 16, 10:38 PM (ET)

By ASHLEY M. HEHER and CARYN ROUSSEAU

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - Steven Kazmierczak had the look of a boyish graduate student - except for the disturbing tattoos that covered his arms.

Professors and students knew him as a bright, helpful scholar, but his past included a stint in a mental health center.

Many saw him as happy and stable, but he had developed a recent interest in guns and was involved in a troubled - possibly abusive - on-again, off-again relationship.

What people initially told police about the Northern Illinois University shooter didn't add up, and now investigators are searching for answers to what triggered Thursday's bloody attack, in which five students were killed and several more injured before Kazmierczak committed suicide.

While searching for a motive, authorities questioned family and friends and tried to determine whether he had recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend.

One person who knew the couple, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said the couple's relationship was on-again, off-again and "really rocky." Kazmierczak was controlling, she said.

"He was abusive, had a temper," she said. "He didn't actually hit her; he would push her around."

The 27-year-old Kazmierczak also had a history of mental illness and had become erratic in the past two weeks after he stopped taking his medication, said university Police Chief Donald Grady.

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

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

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

Jason Dunavan, a tattoo artist in Champaign, said he spent hours as recently as last month creating tattoos for Kazmierczak. His work included an image of the macabre doll from the horror movie "Saw" riding a tricycle through a pool of blood with images of several bleeding cuts in the background.

Dunavan said he was so proud of the tattoo that he enlarged a photo of it and placed it on a wall in his shop - a move he is now rethinking.

"I don't know if I still want that picture on my wall," said Dunavan, who also described Kazmierczak as timid and apologetic.

"He was really, really mousy."

On Friday, police went through belongings Kazmierczak left at a DeKalb motel in search of clues.

Kazmierczak paid cash for his room at the Travelodge three days before the shootings, signing his name only as "Steven" on a slip of paper, according to the hotel manager. Items later found in his room included empty cartons of cigarettes and discarded containers of energy drinks and cold medicine. The refrigerator was stocked with more energy drinks.

Authorities found a duffel bag, with the zippers glued shut, that Kazmierczak had left in the room, said Lt. Gary Spangler of the DeKalb Police Department. A bomb squad safely opened the bag Friday, Spangler said.

He would not comment on what was found in the bag. The Chicago Tribune, citing law enforcement sources, reported that investigators found ammunition inside.

Kazmierczak also left behind a laptop computer, which was seized by investigators, said Jay Patel, manager at the Travelodge.

The discoveries added to the puzzles surrounding Kazmierczak, a graduate student who had once studied at Northern Illinois University but transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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.

Those who knew him were baffled by the attacks, in which Kazmierczak stepped from behind a screen on the lecture hall's stage and opened fire on a geology class.

Jim Thomas, an emeritus professor of sociology and criminology at NIU who taught Kazmierczak, insisted there was no indication of trouble between Kazmierczak and his girlfriend.

"I do know they loved each other very much," Thomas said. "He felt extremely close to her. ... To my knowledge, I saw no indication of abuse."

Kazmierczak's godfather, Richard Grafer, said Saturday that his godson was in good spirits when they spoke Tuesday about playing chess sometime soon.

Kazmierczak told his godfather he would call him again Saturday. "He seemed fine, great. We were laughing and talking and telling jokes," said Grafer, who added that he knew nothing about Kazmierczak being on or off medication.

Kristen Myers, an associate professor of sociology who knew Kazmierczak, also said he didn't fit the image of a loner or outcast.

"Profiling would not have worked with Steve. People would let him into their home," she said. "People feel so bad that we didn't know he was suffering like this."

On Feb. 9, Kazmierczak walked into a Champaign gun store and picked up two guns - a 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 had no criminal record.

Kazmierczak had a state police-issued FOID, a 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. And since Kazmierczak's stay in the mental health center was more than five years ago, it didn't raise red flags.

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.

Seven people remained hospitalized Saturday after the attack, with three in serious condition, one of them upgraded from critical. The other four are in fair condition.

Officials at NIU said classes will resume on Feb. 25, though Cole Hall - where the shootings happened - will remained closed until the end of the semester.

Peters promised a strong police presence and ample counseling for students and instructors.

"We need to take care of ourselves and each other, reaching out to those of us who are struggling," Peters said in a statement.

"An act of violence does not define us."

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Karen Hawkins, Nguyen Huy Vu, Don Babwin, Deanna Bellandi, Dave Carpenter, Tamara Starks, Carla K. Johnson, Michael Tarm and Mike Robinson in Illinois; Anthony McCartney in Lakeland, Fla.; Matt Apuzzo and Lolita Baldor in Washington; AP National Writer Martha Irvine; and the AP News Research Center in New York.



Gunman Called Girlfriend to Say Goodbye
Feb 17, 10:47 PM (ET)

WONDER LAKE, Ill. (AP) - The girlfriend of the man who killed five people and himself at Northern Illinois University said Sunday that he called her early on Valentine's Day, the day of the shooting, to say goodbye.

Steven Kazmierczak "called me at midnight and told me not to forget about him," Jessica Baty, 28, told CNN from her home. She said she had no indication he was planning anything.

Investigators still haven't determined why Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire in a lecture hall at his and Baty's alma mater, and she shed no light on a motive Sunday.

"The person I knew was not the one who went into Cole Hall and did that," Baty told CNN. "He was anything but a monster. He was probably the ... nicest, (most) caring person ever."

The day of the shooting or the day after, Baty received a package from Kazmierczak containing two textbooks, a cell phone and what she characterized as a "goodbye note."

"You've done so much for me," the note said, according to Baty. "You will make an excellent psychologist and social worker someday."

Another package contained a gun holster and ammunition. She confirmed that he had stopped taking an antidepressant about three weeks ago because "it made him feel like a zombie," but she denied that his recent behavior was unusual.

"He wasn't erratic. He wasn't delusional. He was Steve; he was normal," said Baty, who had turned down Associated Press requests by phone and in person for an interview.

Authorities have speculated that the couple might have split up just before the shooting. CNN said that during the interview televised Sunday, Baty described an on-off relationship and said she and Kazmierczak most recently had been living together.

"I still love him," she told CNN.

An NIU professor who befriended Kazmierczak and Baty during their years on campus told The Associated Press earlier Sunday that Baty was upset by media reports of their relationship as rocky and abusive.

Jim Thomas, an emeritus professor of sociology and criminology at NIU, said Baty feels she and Kazmierczak were a typical young couple.

"They were two people in love with all the pains, joys, squabbles, ups/downs of any other relationship," Thomas said.



City Takes College Attack Personally
Feb 17, 8:15 PM (ET)

By ASHLEY M. HEHER

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - Northern Illinois University is a beacon among the cornfields to young people from surrounding communities that stretch into the outskirts of Chicago, about 60 miles east.

Familiar faces are many on the campus of 25,000, where students who have followed the paths of high school classmates before them travel home with friends on weekends.

The proximity amplifies the sorrow felt beyond DeKalb, a farm town fast becoming a bedroom community, after a shooting rampage Thursday by a gunman who killed five students in Cole Hall and wounded 16 others before committing suicide.

"It's a personal attack on anyone who's ever been affiliated with Northern," said Elaine Goodwin, a retired professor who wiped tears from her eyes after a church service Sunday. "There's a loyalty. There's a pride in being part of NIU."

Such solidarity in the face of tragedy has become one of the few, and unfortunate, traits shared by the Illinois university and Virginia Tech, where student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people last April before killing himself.

Virginia Tech's sprawling Blacksburg campus is more than three times NIU's size, covering about 2,600 acres, and about 75 percent of the 23,000 undergraduates hail from Virginia. More than 90 percent of NIU students are Illinois residents - many from suburban Chicago - and nearly 40 percent of undergrads leave the 755-acre campus for home each weekend.

Still, the two campuses are now indelibly linked and reaching out to one another for help.

After the Virginia Tech shootings, NIU students spent hours stringing together rosary beads for students in Blacksburg, Monsignor Glenn Nelson, director of the NIU Newman Catholic Student Center, said at a service Friday.

After Thursday's shooting, Nelson said, he received a call from his counterpart in Virginia.

"He said, 'I know what you're going through,'" Nelson said. "We didn't know them. They didn't know us, and yet we're bound forever."

Closer to home, dozens of businesses throughout the DeKalb region - from restaurants to real estate agencies - bear signs of encouragement posted within hours of Thursday's attack. "We're with you NIU" and "Our thoughts and prayers are with you," some read.

Hundreds of students and townspeople walked the campus in off-and-on rain Sunday, visiting three touchstones of grief: a row of six white wooden crosses for the victims and the gunman, a set of white panels where they wrote their thoughts with markers, and Cole Hall itself, now more accessible as the police perimeter has shrunk.

Several knelt and prayed at the yellow crime-scene tape outside the hall - an integral part of the underclassman experience at NIU that is used for introductory courses in a variety of subjects.

Andrew Lamirand, a 25-year-old physical education major, said the strong sense of community at NIU made the tragedy personal.

"It's like my second home," said Lamirand, who took his 2-year-old son to visit the memorials. "It's almost like someone got shot in my house. There's a feeling of futility."

Days after the shootings, residents still wore gear bearing the school's Huskie mascot and donned lapel ribbons in the school colors, red and black.

"They're half of us; they're half our community," said Mary Wyzard, a DeKalb resident who works as a computer lab supervisor at the campus and helped organize a special Sunday church service dedicated to the victims.

In fact, only about a third of the school's 18,000 undergraduates live in campus dorms, officials said, while just as many live in off-campus housing throughout the county. And the 43,000-resident city can seem eerily quiet when school isn't in session.

"It's very vacant when the kids are not here," said Surray Williams, a 27-year-old NIU graduate from Chicago who now lives in nearby Cortland. "The community supports that school 100 percent. And the school is built around the community."

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Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.



Chicago's Suburbs Grieve NIU Victims
Feb 17, 10:00 PM (ET)

By LINDSEY TANNER and CARYN ROUSSEAU

CICERO, Ill. (AP) - The sprawling Chicago suburbs that send their sons and daughters to Northern Illinois University struggled Sunday with the closeness of the country's latest massacre - this time the gunman grew up among them.

The tragedy hung over church services throughout the region, from the university's home in DeKalb on Chicago's western exurban edge, to Elk Grove Village, where the gunman grew up in what one resident called "Mayberry," to blue-collar Cicero bordering Chicago.

Parishioners at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church in Cicero prepared for the funeral of Catalina Garcia, the youngest of four children of parents originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. They're longtime parishioners at Our Lady of the Mount, a tight-knit group of low- and middle-income families, many of them young, with some older Czech and other immigrants.

"Their parents are making all sorts of sacrifices to make sure the kids get into colleges. They're selling things, they're taking out second mortgages on their homes," the Rev. Lawrence Collins said at the church.

Garcia, 20, followed a brother, Jaime, to NIU, choice of many working-class Chicago-area families. She was studying to be a teacher and had talked about returning to Cicero to teach first grade.

"It hits really close to home," Collins said.

The Garcias were the "typical Mexican-American family," working low-wage jobs to help put their children through school, Jaime Garcia said Sunday on the porch of the family's two-story red brick home.

"My parents came here to better their lives," he said. They worried more about their children getting caught in gang crossfire at home than away at college "in the cornfields" of DeKalb.

"It's like the all-American dream cut short," he said.

Investigators still haven't determined what set off 27-year-old shooter Steven Kazmierczak, who killed five students and injured more than a dozen other people with a shotgun and pistols during a science lecture, then committed suicide.

Kazmierczak grew up northwest of Chicago, in Elk Grove Village, and played saxophone in the school band. He spent time in a mental health center in his late teens, and police have said without elaboration that he had stopped taking some kind of medication in the days or weeks before the shooting.

His girlfriend, Jessica Baty, told CNN on Sunday that he had stopped taking an antidepressant about three weeks ago because "it made him feel like a zombie."

Kazmierczak's family has moved away, but the shooting still echoed in the Elk Grove Village, near O'Hare International Airport. Resident Pat Egan, a heating and cooling repair man whose son goes to NIU, described the suburb as "Mayberry."

People there seemed to feel a sense of disbelief and confusion over the attack that thrust their community into the news, said the Rev. Hwa Young Chong at the Prince of Peace United Methodist Church.

"I couldn't believe coming from a place like Elk Grove he could do that," said Judy Glomski, who has lived in Elk Grove Village for 39 years. "It's just a friendly town. I guess there are sick people everywhere."

Kazmierczak attended NIU, studying sociology. Three semesters back, he transferred across state to the more prestigious University of Illinois in Champaign. Most students and professors on both campuses remembered him as a promising student.

Yet he began assembling an arsenal in August, buying a shotgun and three menacing handguns from a small Champaign gun shop. He added oversized ammunition clips in an Internet purchase from the same dealer that sold the Virginia Tech gunman a weapon.

Kazmierczak had also begun the long process of having his arms blanketed with disturbing tattoos, including a skull pierced by a knife, a pentagram and a macabre character from the "Saw" horror movies, superimposed on images of bleeding slashes across his forearm.

Baty, 28, told CNN that she didn't know Kazmierczak was planning anything, but that he called her early on the day of the massacre to say goodbye.

Some NIU parents took the shootings as a call to action, speaking out for stricter gun control in hopes the tragedy would propel the issue into the presidential campaign. Connie Catellani, a Skokie physician whose 22-year-old son is an NIU senior, helped organize a weekend news conference with other NIU parents.

"It's sickening. What are we supposed to do, surround college campuses with barbed wire and metal detectors?" Catellani said Sunday.

"If somebody had walked into that classroom with a hand grenade, there would be outrage, yet when someone walked in with a handgun that's capable of firing off 30 or 50 rounds in a minute, there's not the same sense of urgency," she said.

At least six people remained hospitalized Sunday, with three in serious condition. The other three were in fair condition. A seventh patient, who had been upgraded from serious to fair condition Saturday, was transferred from Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, spokeswoman Laura Taylor said Sunday. She did not say where the patient was transferred.

In addition to Garcia, the dead were Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester, Ill., Ryanne Mace, age 19, of Carpentersville, Ill., Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota, Ill., and Gayle Dubowski, age 20, last of Carol Stream, Ill.

Parmenter stood taller than 6 feet and played rugby and football. He also was quiet, studious and introspective, recalled Joe Morgan, who served as his confirmation mentor at Christ Church in Oak Brook for nine months when Parmenter was a high school freshman.

"He was a big kid who was gentle," Morgan said.

The shooting recalled another senseless modern tragedy that struck the congregation, members of which arrived for services in the soaring, modern sanctuary Sunday under steady rain and a driving wind. One of the church's pastors, Jeff Mladenik, was a passenger on a plane flown into the World Trade Center by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, said the Rev. Daniel Meyer, senior pastor.

"You're not meant to offer platitudes; you simply offer love," Meyer said.

At First Baptist Church in DeKalb, members passed pinned-on red ribbons for a morning service.

The Rev. Joe Sanders prayed for the NIU community and the victims' families and asked God to help Kazmierczak's family cope with the attack and their own grief of losing a son: "We want God to be merciful and gracious to them."

---

Associated Press writer Dave Carpenter contributed to this report.



NIU Community Wonders: Why Cole Hall?
Feb 20, 7:39 PM (ET)

By DON BABWIN

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - Steven Kazmierczak was an academic star at Northern Illinois University. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the Cole Hall auditorium where he returned to carry out his deadly attack.

Kazmierczak saw his academic career take off after taking his first sociology class at Cole. He earned A after A at NIU, after getting B's in high school and spending a year in a psychiatric treatment center.

Fellow students and teachers saw a young man almost desperate to learn.

Kazmierczak's books were littered with tabs, highlighting thoughts he literally wanted at his fingertips. They saw the piles of paper - extra reading - that he brought to class for the same reason.

"He was just devastatingly good, he would talk about ideas," said Jim Thomas, an emeritus professor of sociology and criminology at NIU who gave Kazmierczak the title of co-instructor instead of the less-prestigious teaching assistant.

All of which makes the Valentine's Day shooting at Cole Hall, where Kazmierczak fatally shot five people before committing suicide, even more confusing to university officials, investigators and people who knew him.

"By all accounts, this young man enjoyed some of the greatest satisfaction and success of his life at this institution, and why he chose to come back to here and commit this heinous crime is a mystery," NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said. "There was not a hint of trouble with this guy."

Kazmierczak left no suicide note and took very specific steps to hide his motive. He had removed the hard drive from his laptop computer and his cell phone's SIM card, a key computer chip, Magara said.

Adding to the questions has been apparently conflicting information from his former girlfriend, Jessica Baty. Police said she told them Kazmierczak had stopped taking medications and was acting erratically, but on Sunday she told CNN that he was irritable but there was no erratic behavior and that Kazmierczak had been taking Prozac.

Baty told a CNN reporter on Tuesday that Kazmierczak had been taking Xanax, Ambien and Prozac, prescribed by a psychiatrist he'd begun seeing shortly after the couple moved to Champaign in June 2007, the network reported Wednesday.

Xanax is a powerful anti-anxiety drug; Prozac is an antidepressant also used for anxiety, and Ambien is a sleeping aid.

Baty said she became "nervous" about the medication and tried to persuade her boyfriend to stop taking one of them. She says Kazmierczak stopped taking the Prozac three weeks before the attack.

Police on Wednesday declined to discuss Baty's comments.

It's not unheard of for psychiatrists to prescribe all three drugs for one patient, and while the three might cause unpredictable side effects when taken together, the combination isn't necessarily problematic, said Dr. Emil Coccaro, psychiatry chief at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Of the three, Xanax is potentially the most problematic, he said. It can cause emotionally unstable people to become more emotionally unstable, and has been associated with "episodic discontrol" - explosive behavior, Coccaro said.

He wasn't certain what effect stopping all three at once might have.

Campus Police Chief Donald Grady said Wednesday that police have interviewed 120 people and uncovered more than 100 pieces of evidence, but have no motive for the rampage. FBI special agent Bill Monroe said the agency has profilers working to establish a motive.

Grady also said that Baty is cooperating with their investigation.

Kazmierczak apparently had failed at other ventures - a stint in the Army ended in early 2002 after five months and late last year he worked as an Indiana prison guard for about two weeks. But NIU, which he attended until enrolling in graduate school at the University of Illinois, was a place of sustained excellence.

Thomas wonders whether Kazmierczak chose Cole Hall specifically because of his success there.

"He had a sense of symbolism..." he said. "Steve chose to end it where he began it."

Dr. Susan Lipkins, an expert on violence on college and high school campuses, said the reason might be that Kazmierczak knew the building well.

"Violence is planned," she said. "Victims can be random but violence is rarely random. So he knew there would be a whole lot of people available to him to carry out his crime, and they were sort of like sitting ducks."

---

Associated Press writers Ashley M. Heher, Caryn Rousseau, Lindsey Tanner and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.
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