DEKALB, Ill. – 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.
And yet on Thursday, the 27-year-old Kazmierczak, armed with three handguns and a brand-new pump-action shotgun he had carried onto campus in a guitar case, stepped from behind a screen on the stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire on a geology class. He killed five students before committing suicide.
University Police Chief Donald Grady said Kazmierczak had become erratic in the past two weeks after he had stopped taking his medication. Grady refused to discuss what medication Kazmierczak was taking or anything about his medical condition.
But that seemed to come as news to many of those who knew him, and the attack itself was positively baffling.
“We had no indications at all this would be the type of person that would engage in such activity,” Grady said. He described the gunman as a good student during his time at NIU, and by all accounts a “fairly normal” person.
Exactly what set Kazmierczak off – and why he picked his former university and that particular lecture hall – remained a mystery. Police said they found no suicide note.
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.
Investigators learned that a week ago, on Feb. 9, Kazmierczak walked into a Champaign gun store and picked up two guns – the 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 (pronounced kaz-MUR-chek) had no criminal record.
Kazmierczak, who went by Steve, graduated from NIU in 2007 and was a graduate student in sociology there before leaving last year and moving on to the graduate school of social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 130 miles away.
Unlike Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho – a sullen misfit who could barely look anyone in the eye, much less carry on a conversation – Kazmierczak appeared to fit in just fine.
Chris Larrison, an assistant professor of social work, said Kazmierczak did data entry for Larrison’s research grant on mental health clinics. Larrison was stunned by the shooting rampage, as was the gunman’s faculty adviser, professor Jan Carter-Black.
“He was engaging, motivated, responsible. I saw nothing to suggest that there was anything troubling about his behavior,” she said.
Carter-Black said Kazmierczak wanted to focus on mental health issues and enrolled in August in a course she taught about human behavior and the social environment but withdrew in September because he had gotten a job with the prison system.
He worked briefly as a full-time correction officer at the Rockville Correctional Facility, an adult medium-security prison in Rockville, Ind. His tenure there lasted only from Sept. 24 to Oct. 9, after which, said Indiana prisons spokesman Doug Garrison, “he just didn’t show up one day.”
Kazmierczak had left the job and resumed classes full-time at the Urbana-Champaign campus in January, Carter-Black said.
He also had a short-lived stint in the Army. He enlisted in the Army in September 2001, but was discharged in February 2002 for an unspecified reason, said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.
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.
Speaking Friday in Lakeland, Fla., Kazmierczak’s distraught father did not immediately provide any clues to what led to the bloodshed.
“Please leave me alone. … This is a very hard time for me,” Robert Kazmierczak told reporters, throwing his arms up and weeping after emerging briefly from his house. He declined further comment about his son.
In Illinois, the gunman’s sister, Susan Kazmierczak, posted a statement on the door of her Urbana home that 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.”