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Clues few as to why gunman opened fire in class, killing 5
By Jameel Naqvi | Daily Herald Staff

Greg Zanis of Sugar Grove places a flower along some of the crosses that he placed across from Cole Hall Friday.

 

Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Steven Kazmierczak

 

Kazmierczak's apartment building in Champaign

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Garrett Evans of Chicago, a victim of the Virginia Tech shootings, came to campus to talk with students. Evans was shot thrrough the leg.

 

Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Stephen Kazmierczak ,1998 Elk Grove High School yearbook

 

Emergency Room director Dr. Michael Kulisz answers questions during a press conference at Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

NIU senior Kate McCullagh, 23, of Woodstock, stands silently Friday in front of the crosses memorializing the students who died in Thursday's shooting at Northern Illinois University..

 

Rick West | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/15/2008 9:03 AM | Updated: 2/16/2008 12:21 AM

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The gunman who killed five Northern Illinois University students Thursday quit taking medication two weeks ago -- and days later began buying guns.

The shooter, Steven P. Kazmierczak of Elk Grove Village, "had become somewhat erratic" in the past two weeks, NIU Police Chief Donald Grady said Friday.

He also tried to buy guns at six different gun stores -- and at one time this month six different background checks were processing his name.

With no suicide note left behind, the gunman's recent medical and gun-buying histories offered the only clues as to why the 27-year-old graduate student walked into a large NIU lecture hall Thursday and opened fire with a shotgun and a pistol.

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The five students he killed in Thursday's attack were identified Friday:

• Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream.

• Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero.

• Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota.

• Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville.

• Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester.

A total of 22 people, including the gunman and the instructor, were shot. Four, including the shooter, were found dead at the scene. Two died later at area hospitals.

Of the 16 victims who survived, seven remained Friday evening in area hospitals. Nine had been treated and released, including Geology 104 instructor Joseph Peterson, who was shot in the arm.

NIU's police chief confirmed Friday there had been a threat on a university bathroom wall a week before the shooting but said it was not a "credible threat" and had no connection to Thursday's shooting.

University officials said there did not seem to be a connection between a December threat -- also scrawled on a bathroom wall -- and Thursday's shooting.

NIU's DeKalb campus, the site of Thursday's attack, had mostly emptied of students Friday. The few who remained were either headed home or planned to attend one of several memorial services scheduled throughout the day.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich toured the campus Friday afternoon, visiting the scene of the crime, meeting with students and parents and offering his condolences to the entire NIU community.

"At an institution devoted to learning, we've seen a terrible act of unthinkable evil," Blagojevich said.

University leaders said the strength of their community would enable the school to heal.

"We will get through this together," university President John Peters said.

The shooter had once been a part of that community. He was an NIU grad student last spring, with a stellar record of academic and extra-curricular success, university officials said.

This semester, he had been enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

NIU's police chief described the shooter as a "fairly normal, unstressed person" active in several social justice organizations during his time at NIU.

"He was an outstanding student," Grady said. "There were no red flags."

Police said they still have no indication the shooter knew any of the students or the instructor of the geology class he targeted.

Grady would not say what medication the shooter had been taking or what condition the drugs were for.

University officials, however, hinted the shooter may have had a mental condition, calling him "disturbed," and "an individual that obviously had some problems."

He had worked briefly as a correction officer at the Rockville Correctional Facility and served in the Army from September 2001 to February 2002, when he was discharged for an "unspecified" reason, an Army spokesman said.

The shooter was toting four weapons, including a 12-gauge shotgun concealed in a guitar case when he entered Cole Hall, the scene of Thursday's shooting.

He also was carrying three handguns, according to police: a 9 mm Glock, a 9 mm Sig Sauer and a .380-caliber High Point. He also wore a belt with ammunition pouches.

It is not clear if the gunman fired all the guns or spent all his ammunition, but Grady said investigators recovered 48 shell casings and six shotgun shells at the scene.

The shooter legally bought the Remington 12-gauge shotgun and the Glock handgun last Saturday in Champaign. He bought the two other handguns at the same shop last year.

State police said six background checks were done on the gunman shortly before he bought the weapons at two different stores. Police said that indicates he tried to buy a gun at six different places but that he didn't necessarily buy six guns.

In a strange twist, a Green Bay-based Internet gun dealer who sold a weapon to the Virginia Tech shooter said Friday he sold Glock magazines and a Glock holster to the gunman through his Web site.

Police said the gunman had parked his car on campus and was seen outside Cole Hall before the shooting, but they did not know when he arrived on campus.

He walked into the auditorium shortly after 3 p.m. and fired on the introductory geology class from the stage before shooting himself, police and eyewitnesses said.

NIU police said they were on the scene within 29 seconds of the first 911 call, and eight officers were at Cole Hall within 90 seconds of the initial call.

NIU police officers also are trained and certified paramedics and were treating the wounded even as they secured the lecture hall, Grady said.

In Florida, Polk County sheriff's officials said they notified the gunman's father, Robert Kazmierczak of Lakeland, of his son's death.

The father emerged in tears around 11:30 a.m., saying he had no comment and asking to be left alone.

"This is a very hard time," he told the Lakeland Ledger.

All classes and activities have been canceled on all of NIU's campuses until further notice. Residence halls will stay open, and university support services will continue to operate. Counseling is available at the five residence halls on the DeKalb campus.

Of the estimated 6,000 of NIU's 25,000 students who live on the DeKalb campus, 50 percent to 70 percent had left campus by Friday afternoon, housing employees estimated.

Kimberly Malone, a junior and math education major at NIU, was headed home Friday to Bloomington and said most her friends were doing the same.

"They're either on their way … home, or already home," Malone said. She said students had to drive home or get rides from friends or parents because campus buses were not running. "It's been a weird 24 hours."

NIU student Mike Salerno was thinking about the victims Friday as he prepared to go home to Orland Park.

"We're just hoping that the people in the hospital make it out all right," Salerno said.

Community members set up at least three makeshift memorials to the shooting victims Friday, including a row of crosses near Cole Hall, another row of crosses at a nearby church and a wooden wall under construction on the campus commons for students to express their condolences.

Throughout the day, there were organized Masses and memorial services, as well as impromptu vigils across campus.

One group of students walked through campus with cardboard signs bearing messages of hope and peace.

"There's something fundamentally wrong with what's going on here, and it all derives from hate," said Logan Short of St. Louis, one of the sign-bearers. "After everything last night, it would probably help out the community (to show) that everyone wants peace."

The governor pledged to throw himself behind the federal, state and local effort to help the university recover and to figure out why the shooting took place and if any security failures played a role.

"We will work with the university to help this university return to its mission, which is education," Blagojevich said. "We will work to understand the motive of the assailant. If there's a way this tragedy could have been prevented, we will find it."

The university president said he spent much of Thursday visiting with victims and their families.

"Their response was, as you can imagine, heart-rending, but I was impressed by their internal strength," he said.

Peters offered thanks for "the outpouring of support from the around the country and around the world."

Among the condolences sent to NIU was a letter from Charles Steger, president of Virginia Tech, where 32 students and faculty were killed in a shooting spree last year.

"The loss of life is always tragic," Steger wrote, "but especially the loss of young people with their promise for the future."