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Five people, gunman killed in shooting at NIU lecture hall
Carpentersville, Elmhurst students among victims
By John Radtke and Josh Stockinger | Daily Herald Staff

Northern Ilinois University employee Jessica Best, left, and senior dance student Suzanne Mauher pray Thursday in a prayer service at Harvest Bible Chapel in DeKalb.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Northern Ilinois University junior Lauren Meranda of Roselle sings a hymn Thursday in a prayer service at Harvest Bible Chapel in DeKalb.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

A shooting victim is loaded into an ambulance, which was then taken over to a helicopter at Kishwaukee Hospital in Sycamore after a multiple shooting on campus Thursday.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

A police official passes near a damaged door at Cole Hall on the Northern Illinois University Campus in DeKalb.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

An ambulance leaves Cole Hall en route to the hospital.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Police talk to men removed from Cole Hall on the Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb after an afternoon shooting.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Rolling Meadows High School alum J.D. Donohue was one of the students shot at Northern Illinois University. He posed for the Daily Herald in 2004 after recovering from two strokes he suffered during a football game.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

People line a sidewalk near Cole Hall on the Northern Illinois University campus.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Emergency personnel carry a student away from Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University Thursday after a gunman opened fire inside the lecture hall.

 

Jim Killam | The Northern Star

In this photo provided by the student-run Northern Star newspaper, students are tended to outside of Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University after a shooting at the college.

 

The Northern Star

A law enforcement officer stands guard outside a Northern Illinois University building where a gunman opened fire in a lecture hall in DeKalb.

 

Associated Press

Students wait in DuSable Hall at Northern Illinois University Thursday.

 

AP Photo/Stacey Huffstutler, Northern Star

Students help a victim after carrying him from Cole Hall to nearby DuSable Hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., Thursday.

 

AP Photo/Northern Star, Stacey Huffstutler

A man grieves outside the scene of a shooting at a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University Thursday.

 

AP Photo/daily-chronicle.com, Eric Sumberg

A bullet shattered a window at Cole Hall. Police and FBI investigate at Cole Hall in Dekalb after a multiple shooting Thursday.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

In this photo provided by the student-run Northern Star newspaper, rescue workers carry an unidentified victim from the scene of a shooting at a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., Thursday.

 

AP Photo/Northern Star, Jim Killam

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Published: 2/14/2008 3:42 PM | Updated: 2/15/2008 1:56 PM

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A former Northern Illinois University student opened fire at the DeKalb campus Thursday and then shot himself, leaving six dead and 15 wounded.

At least two of the victims are from our area: Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville, and Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Elmhurst. Two other victims identifed by DeKalb County Coroner Dennis J. Miller are Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero and Julianna Gehant, 32, of Meridan.

The shooter had been a graduate student in sociology at NIU in the spring of 2007, but was not currently enrolled there. The gunman, whom police did not identify, had had no contact with DeKalb police, NIU President John G. Peters said.

The classroom instructor was identified today as graduate student Joseph Peterson, who suffered a shoulder wound in the attack.

Students in the classroom say a skinny man clad in black and holding a shotgun burst into class shortly after 3 p.m. and just started shooting.

"I think he was just trying to clock as many people as he could," said John Giovanni, an NIU student from Des Plaines, who witnessed the shooting. "… He walked onto the stage. He was 1 foot from the professor."

NIU student J.D. Donohue, a former Rolling Meadows High School football player, fled when he heard the first shot, not realizing he had been shot in the neck and shoulder.

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He turned back when he realized his girlfriend wasn't with him, quickly found her, and then they both fled the building.

"She's OK. Thank God. That was the scariest part -- looking for her," said Donohue, who in 2004 made a miraculous recovery after suffering two strokes in a Rolling Meadows football game.

NIU students described a chaotic, frantic effort to stay alive -- either by crouching as far down as possible or running as fast as they could.

Four of the shooter's targets were found dead inside the classroom and were pronounced dead on the scene. The gunman shot himself on the raised platform where he had opened fire.

Authorities were not confirming the identities of any of the victims.

NIU Police Chief Don Grady said it's not clear why the man opened fire. "At this point, we have no clue as to what the motive may have been," he said.

The shooting occurred two months after Northern Illinois University officials closed the campus for a day on Dec. 10 after receiving an anonymous threat that included a racial slur and made reference to the April 2007 shootings that killed 33 people at Virginia Tech University.

When the university was closed for a day in December, NIU said in a statement on its Web site that the threat was scrawled on a restroom wall in a residence hall. The note warned that "things will change most hastily" in the final days of the current semester.

NIU President Peters said he didn't see any relationship between the December threat and the shootings. Though he said, "I do not know for sure that it is not connected."

Among the injured was the instructor of the class where the shooting occurred, graduate teaching assistant Joseph Peterson. He was shot in the arm, but is going to be OK, said geology chairman Jonathan Berg.

Maria Ruiz of Elgin also was among those shot, said longtime family friend Jorge Martinez of Elgin. He said his mother had told him Ruiz was shot in the chest, while a friend from NIU told Martinez that Ruiz was bleeding "a lot."

Martinez said Ruiz, a 2006 Larkin High School graduate, is a junior majoring in criminal justice at Northern University. The two had spoken Thursday morning, when Martinez called to wish Ruiz a happy Valentine's Day. "She just mentioned that she didn't have any big plans except that her boyfriend was visiting and they were going out to dinner," Martinez said.

Seventeen people were initially taken to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in Sycamore and several were later transferred to other hospitals. Two who were in critical condition with head wounds were flown to St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, where one of them later died.

Three students, two females and one male, ages 18 to 22, were flown to Good Samaritan in Downers Grove.

"All three patients were brought in with gunshot wounds to the head and shoulder area," said Nate Llewellyn, a hospital spokesman. He said two students were listed in critical condition, one serious.

Eight of the victims at Kishwaukee were in stable condition with chest, head, back and shoulder and leg wounds. Six of the victims were described as "walking wounded."

The shooting took place about 3:05 p.m. at Cole Hall and the campus was immediately locked down. At 4:14 p.m., the immediate danger was over and the wounded were at hospitals, authorities said.

"Witnesses described a very brief, rapid-fire assault that ended with the gunman taking his own life," Peters said.

He said all classes have been canceled until further notice. Residence halls will stay open and university support services will continue to operate. Students can go to any residence hall for counseling.

University officials are advising students to remain calm and to seek counseling. "We have asked them to reach out to each other in this difficult time," Peters said.

A prayer service was held Thursday night for NIU students, families, and administration at the Harvest Bible Chapel in DeKalb.

The university initially posted an alert on its Web site at 3:20 p.m. warning of a possible gunman and telling people to get to a safe area immediately.

The shooting took place in an introductory geology class, a large lecture course in which 162 students were registered.

Student George Gaynor was sitting toward the front of class when he saw a tall, white and skinny man step in from a door to the right of the instructor.

"He came in, pointed and shot," Gaynor told ABC 7 Chicago. "He had a very blank expression. He looked like an average student."

After the first shot was fired, the class erupted and students charged for the back doors for safety, he said. "It was just a surreal experience," he said.

The gunman kept shooting, Gaynor said, as students trampled over each other to get away.

The gunman entered the lecture hall from an emergency exit on the right side of the auditorium, walked directly to the middle of the stage and began shooting.

A shotgun and two handguns have been found, Peters said. One of the handguns was described as Glock-style handgun. Police found ammunition from three different weapons, authorities said. Police were still searching for one of the weapons, a small caliber handgun.

On Thursday evening, NIU officials said the campus has been searched and police do not think there are any other victims, university spokeswoman Melanie Magara said.

Word of the shooting reached Northern Illinois University professor Melissa Lenczewski's class at about 3:15 p.m. from a student who received a text message.

Shortly after that, officials began securing the building where she was conducting a geology lab.

Although the lockdown gave them a sense of security, Lenczewski said she and her students feared for the safety of a colleague. The graduate student was teaching a class in Cole Hall, where the violence apparently erupted.

"We're safe, but our friend is in that building. We're very worried about our friend," said Lenczewski, a specialist in geology and environmental geoscience.

Police cars and ambulances converged on the campus, Lenczewski said.

"There are all sorts of rumors going around," she added.

By close to 5 p.m., ambulances with wounded were still arriving at Kishwaukee, where several students had shown up to await news of friends.

Tim Mayerbock, a junior from Chicago majoring sociology and psychology, was among them.

He was standing in front of Cole Hall when the shooting happened. He saw a male student run out of the building, limping from a gunshot wound in the leg, along with several other students running from the building.

Mayerbock, a lineman on the NIU football team, says he grabbed the injured student and helped carry him to a building about a block away. While he was running, he heard three more gunshots from inside the building and more students screaming and running in all directions.

He got the injured student into a building and called police. "He was in shock, and I just tried to keep him relaxed," Mayerbock said.

He said he then rode in an ambulance with the unidentified victim to the hospital.

NIU student Aimee Corn, an Elgin High School graduate, described a chaotic scene, as she headed to her car en route to her off-campus condo.

"I was leaving class at Wirtz Hall at 3 and had to walk across campus to get to the parking deck. As soon as I got there, there were cops rushing all over the place shutting everything down. I got to my car and as I drove out of the parking deck, I had no idea what was going on.

"It was scary to not know what was happening. The cops wrote down my license plate number and waved me on. I just went home and that's when I heard what happened."

Derrick Baker, a 20-year old NIU junior, was in the class at Cole Hall where the shootings occurred.

"He said he saw someone come in from the back door on a stage, heard the shotgun shot and just ran," Baker's roommate, Mike Denigan, 24, said. "He said he knew something was up."

Peters called Thursday's shootings "a time of crisis" and offered condolences to families of the victims. "Our hearts and prayers go out to them."

The university gave several hotlines for students and parents to call for more information: 815-753-1573; 815-753-6143; 815-753-1574; 815-753-1575; 815-753-9564; and 815-753-6257.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich declared a state of emergency, making disaster relief funds available to local units of government, and state officials mobilized the state's Emergency Operation Center, the nerve center for Illinois' terrorism and natural disaster responses. Spokesmen were not available to say whether the emergency facility received any requests for help.

As the campus mourns, an ongoing investigation is being conducted by the FBI, state police, the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the state crisis management team, DeKalb and Sycamore police, and DeKalb Sheriff deputies.

Meanwhile, memories of the day are etched in the NIU community's memory.

Charles Cappell, a professor of quantitative sociology at the university, said he first heard of Thursday's shootings in a frantic phone call from a graduate student about the time of the shooting.

He said he instructed the student to lock herself and about 15 others in a laboratory with no windows.

"She said, 'We've heard shots fired,'" Cappell said. "I told her to get inside and stay there until we here more. She sounded pretty upset. But they're dealing with it; they're coping with it."

Cappell, who also is a Campton Hills village trustee, was at home when the gunman opened fire.

"It's a real tragedy," he said.

Kim Bianchi, an education major from Hoffman Estates, spent the day in a Glen Ellyn school.

When she heard of the shooting on campus, she decided not to go back to DeKalb.

"We live on campus so we don't want to go back right away," said Bianchi, a junior. "I think it's too dangerous."

She had just talked to her roommate by cell phone and found out that she's on lockdown in a campus building.

Carol Stream resident Suzanne Hlotke and her husband were getting ready to watch a Wheaton teenager's performance on "Jeopardy!" Thursday afternoon when news broke of the shooting at NIU.

Hlotke's 26-year-old son, John, was on campus at the time and being relocated shortly after 3:30 p.m.

"It's really upsetting because he spent six years in the Navy and you worry all those years," she said. "You think that nothing can be worse than a child in the middle of the war in Iraq. You get him home safe and then to see him in the middle of all this is just so terrifying."

NIU student Val Silverstein, from Buffalo Grove, was in a child development class about 5 minutes away from the shooting. When word spread, she was instructed to stay in the classroom with the other students on lockdown. Around 4:20 p.m., it was announced that the campus was safe and she headed back to her residence.

"We didn't know what was going on," she said.

Ryan Clair, a 24-year-old NIU student, was halfway into his shift at campus restaurant Pita Pete's when the shooting occurred. The restaurant is just 100 feet away from Cole Hall, Clair said.

Around 3:15, Clair began to notice people running around. "A bunch of ambulances and cars started coming in. I've never seen so many ambulances in my life," he said.

Clair, who said he can easily see Cole Hall from the restaurant, said students had been in lockdown mode in their classrooms.

"They won't let anybody into the parking garage, and there are a couple helicopters flying overhead."

The atmosphere on campus, Clair said was "oddly calm. I'm hoping everything's over. My god."

Daily Herald assistant city editor Tim Sheil and Associated Press contributed to this report.