NIUNorthern Illinois Students Detail Horror of Shootings on Campus

I was online with my young friend Phil, the person helping me to learn the ins-and-outs of making a blog, when he instant messaged me that his friend from East Moline, Illinois (our mutual home town) had just bolted from a classroom in Cole Hall on campus at Northern Illinois University, running for his life.

DeKalb, Illinois, where Northern Illinois University is located, is about an hour and a half drive to the east on Interstate 80.  Many students from the Quad Cities attend NIU. I have taken workshops at WIU and my husband graduated from Northern Illinois University, a campus of about 25,000 students, many of them commuters from the Chicago area or nearby towns.

The friend told Phil that his girlfriend was still inside the lecture hall at Cole Hall, in a geology class.  She had been sitting right next to a student who was shot in the neck by the black-clad gunman, who entered Cole Hall at approximately 3 p.m. (CDT) in this DeKalb, Illinois college town.  The gunman was armed with a shotgun and 2 pistols and, within 2 minutes or so, used that shotgun and those 2 pistols to shoot 22 students, five, including himself for a total of 6, fatally.

Said students Desiree Smith and Geoff Alberti, “I saw four people down on the ground. We were all crawling toward the exits in the back of the room on our stomachs.”  Desiree added that she saw the gunman shoot their instructor onstage “in the arm.” (The instructor was expected to recover, as 6 remain hospitalized four days later.)

Jim Donohue, who sustained about 20 buckshot wounds to his shoulder and the back of his head in the attack, said, “The gunman came out of the emergency exit on the right-hand side of the stage.  My girl and I ran outside together.  I consider myself fortunate.  I feel horrible for others who weren’t so fortunate.  My dad and I had actually talked about what to do if something like this happened, after there were threats I December (2007), and my dad said, “Don’t think. Just run.”

Another eyewitness in the room, George Gaynor, who said he was 30 rows back, taking notes in the geology class when the gunman opened fire on the front rows, said that the gunman was very thin, white and was wearing blue jeans, a gray sweatshirt and a white knit cap, which differed from the versions of most others, who described the gunman as “black clad.”  Gaynor added, “There was a lot of screaming and confusion. The gunman didn’t say a word. He just pointed his gun and opened fire.  He seemed very intent. As we ran, we were all saying, “Is this for real?’ It was surreal. He looked like a typical college student. He could have been anybody.”

Northern Illinois University President John Peters announced later in the day that six people were dead, 4 females and 2 males, including the gunman, who killed himself at the scene.  Hospitals treating the wounded announced on the 6:00 p.m. news (CDT) that another 6 students were in critical condition, many with head wounds. One female student had a bullet lodged near her heart. It was reported that the gunman had been a Sociology graduate student at NIU in the spring of last year, but was not currently enrolled, and had no history of being in trouble at the university. Don Grady, the DeKalb Police Chief, reported that the entire shooting was over in minutes.

Local residents Brett Nowack of East Moline and a Moline girl named Armenid described a scrawled message found on a restroom wall in December, threatening an attack like that at Virginia Tech would take place at NIU.  After that threatening message was reported to authorities in December of 2007, some adjustments in security were made on campus. Still, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to stop a psychotic gunman from carrying out a lethal attack of this sort, as we know all too well after Virginia Tech.

Phil’s friend on the scene said that the gunman was not wearing a mask, although the student had heard reports saying that he was.

Later follow-ups on the gunman’s identity report that the shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, stayed at a Travelodge near campus in Room 105 for three days prior to the rampage, and numerous empty drinks, and consumed bottles of cold medicine were discovered there.  He had purchased all 4 guns legally, near Champaign where he was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, but, more tellingly, he had been an outpatient in a mental health facility in Chicago 8 years ago. He was discharged from the Army 9 years ago and was, in all likelihood (judging from symptoms described by his former nurse) bi-polar, but not taking his medication. The woman, “Louise,” who worked at the outpatient resident treatment facility when Steven was a patient there said that Steven had a history of cutting himself. ‘There were only problems when he didn’t take his medication. He didn’t want to be classified as someone with a mental health issue, so he would sometimes not take his medication.”

As of Sunday, February 17, six NIU victims remain hospitalized. Maria Ruiz Santana remained in serious condition at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. Sherman Yau, 20, was listed in fair condition with a gunshot wound to the chest at the same hospital.  Two other victims were listed in serious condition at hospitals in Rockford and Chicago: a 20-year-old woman who underwent surgery on her armn Friday at Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb, remained in fair condition on Sunday, February 17th. A 19-year-old woman was in fair condition at the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Center after being transferred from Good Samaritan on Saturday morning.

Hordes of angry parents, including John Roszkowski and Jennifer Bishop were featured on the Channel 2 news in Chicago sayingm, “This is craziness. We, as parents, have to take action.” They were pushing for more stringent amendments to and enforcement of what is known as the Brady Bill, an anti-gun bill that came into effect after the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Also, an e-mail threat of similar violence against the University of Chicago campus, made by a 24-year-old, had that campus worried and anxious in the wake of the tragedy in DeKalb, Illinois. Said freshman student Drew Stephenson at the University of Chicago, “I did feel a bit apprehensive, coming on the heels of the Northern Illinois University shooting.”