A gunman opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University on Thursday, Feb. 14, killing six students and injuring others before committing suicide, authorities said.
The gunman started shooting in a “brief, rapid-fire assault” that sent terrified students running for cover, university President John Peters said. Four of the seven total dead, including the gunman, died at the scene, and the other three died in hospitals, he said.
On Feb. 15, Florida authorities and a university official familiar with the investigation identified the shooter as 27-year-old former student Steven Kazmierczak.
Polk County, Fla., sheriff’s officials said they were asked to notify the suspect’s father — Robert Kazmierczak of Lakeland, Fla. — of his son’s death.
“His son, Steven, was the shooting suspect at Northern Illinois University,” said Carrie Rodgers, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
Illinois authorities have not confirmed the suspect’s identity, but a university official revealed his identity to The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the identity has not been officially released.
The shooter had been a graduate student in sociology at Northern Illinois as recently as spring 2007, but was not currently enrolled at the 25,000-student campus, Peters said. He also said the gunman had no record of police contact or an arrest record while attending the university, about 65 miles west of Chicago.
He was currently enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara.
DeKalb County Coroner Dennis J. Miller released the identities of the four victims who died in his county: Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester; Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville; and Julianna Gehant, 32, of Meridan.
Two other victims died after being transferred to hospitals in other counties, Miller said. Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia said a female victim died in her jurisdiction but has not been identified pending notification of family.
The university posted a warning of a possible gunman on campus on its web site at 3:20 p.m., adding regular updates throughout the afternoon and evening. The university issued a statement on its site about an hour after the 3 p.m. shooting that “the immediate danger has passed. The gunman is no longer a threat.”
Witnesses in the geology class in Cole Hall said “someone dressed in black came out from behind a screen in front of the classroom and opened fire with a shotgun,” Peters said.
Lauren Carr said she was sitting in the third row of the lecture hall around 3 p.m. when she saw the shooter walk through a door on the right-hand side of the stage, pointing a gun straight ahead.
“I personally Army-crawled halfway up the aisle,” said Carr, a 20-year-old sophomore. “I said I could get up and run or I could die here.”
She said a student in front of her was bleeding, “but he just kept running.”
“I heard this girl scream, ‘Run, he’s reloading the gun.'”
University Police Chief Donald Grady said police had no apparent motive for the shooting.
George Gaynor, a senior geography student, who was in Cole Hall when the shooting happened, told the student newspaper the Northern Star that the shooter was “a skinny white guy with a stocking cap on.”
He described the scene immediately following the incident as terrifying and chaotic.
“Some girl got hit in the eye, a guy got hit in the leg,” Gaynor said outside just minutes after the shooting occurred. “It was like five minutes before class ended too.”
Witnesses said the young man carried a shotgun and a pistol. Student Edward Robinson told WLS that the gunman appeared to target students in one part of the lecture hall.
“It was almost like he knew who he wanted to shoot,” Robinson said. “He knew who and where he wanted to be firing at.”
Jillian Martinez, a freshman, told the Chicago Tribune she was in the auditorium when the gunman entered through a door to the right of the lectern and opened fire about 3 p.m. “He just started shooting at all the kids,” she said. “He just started shooting at people, and I ran out of there as fast as I could. I ran all the way to the student center; when I got there I could still hear shooting [from the classroom].
Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting local authorities at the scene, spokesman Thomas Ahern told the Chicago Tribune.
“We will be urgently tracing the firearms and learning the history of the weapons,” Ahern said.
All classes were canceled Thursday night and the campus was closed on Friday. Students were urged to call their parents “as soon as possible” and were offered counseling at any residence hall, according to the school web site.
The school was closed for one day during final exam week in December after campus police found threats, including racial slurs and references to shootings earlier in the year at Virginia Tech, scrawled on a bathroom wall in a dormitory. Police determined after an investigation that there was no imminent threat and the campus was reopened. Peters said he knew of no connection between that incident and Thursday’s attack.
At a press conference held on NIU’s campus Thursday evening, Peters said, “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. We thank the community for the outpouring of sympathy during this terrible time of tragedy.”
Peters urged students to remain calm and seek counseling. “We’ve asked them to reach out to each other during this difficult time, and they’ve done that, and I’m proud of them.”
NIU’s Open House scheduled for Feb. 18 is cancelled. All NIU athletic events, home and away, are canceled through Sunday, Feb. 17.
The shooting was the fifth at a U.S. school in recent weeks.
In early February, a teacher was shot and stabbed by her husband at a school in Ohio. She survived, and her husband was later found dead. On Feb. 8, a woman shot two fellow students to death before committing suicide at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge.
In Memphis, Tenn., a 17-year-old is accused of shooting and critically wounding a fellow student Monday during a high school gym class, and the 15-year-old victim of a shooting at an Oxnard, Calif., junior high school has been declared brain dead, and was taken off a ventilator on Feb. 14.