Campus killer called "most gentle man"

Motive for campus carnage remains a mystery
February 16, 2008 3:44:28 AM PST
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.

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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