Daily Herald
Local psychiatrist: Isolation was a factor
By Jamie Sotonoff | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 3/18/2010 6:44 PM

Initial reports blamed the Feb. 14, 2008 shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University on gunman Steven Kazmierczak's decision to stop taking his anti-depression medication, but St. Charles psychiatrist Dr. Herman Langner knew there was more to it than that.

Determined to dig deeper, Langner scoured through public records and came up with a psychiatric analysis of the gunman in his new book, "Attachment and Suicide."

Many of Langner's conclusions were similar to those in NIU's report, released Thursday. He agrees the shooter suffered from severe mental illness and was venting anger. However, Langner concluded the most deadly aspect of the gunman's condition was his lifelong isolation.

After a childhood devoid of love, months in mental institutions, and treatment from dozens of psychiatrists, Langner believes the gunman learned to emotionally wall himself off from everyone and become an expert "role player."

It's a common condition Langner identifies as "False Self Personality Disorder," where someone can't form close relationships and instead hides behind a "false self" to gain love and approval.

"The need to connect is truly powerful. To have people understand you," Langner said. "His personality was, unfortunately, so walled off that he could not receive love, even if it were available."

When he entered NIU, the gunman found a supportive "family" in the sociology department, and for the first time in his life, was successful. He became a model student.

When he left NIU in 2006, however, his life started to unravel and he became isolated once again. He broke up with his girlfriend, his mother died and, now living in Champaign, his support system was gone.

The NIU report said the gunman was angry about changes being made in his former department, and posted inappropriate comments about it online, prompting the department to ban him from commenting further.

That's why Langner believes the timing of the crime - on Valentine's Day - was no coincidence. The shooter already felt rejected by his own family, and now he felt cast out by everyone else, including his NIU colleagues and his girlfriend.

"(The shooter) was sending us a message about the power of love and the adverse consequences of the frustration of his need," Langner said.

The consequences of isolation are explored in-depth in Langner's book. As part of his research, Langner analyzed suicide notes in the Kane and DuPage County coroners' offices and "put them on the couch," trying to understand the victims' true motives.

Langner said in many cases, people - including the NIU shooter - were like Richard Cory, the subject of a famous poem about a man who's life seems perfect or normal until he does something unthinkable.

"There seemed to be a pattern," he said. "What you saw was not what you got."