Illinois College Applied Lessons From Massacre At Virginia Tech

A 27-year-old former student opened fire in a Northern Illinois University classroom Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008, killing six students and wounding 16. The student, identified by the university's police chief as Stephen P. Kazmierczak, dressed in black, fired at random and then killed himself, according to officials.
By Kari Lydersen and Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 16, 2008

DEKALB, Ill., Feb. 15 -- If there were lessons learned after the Virginia Tech massacre, they were: Lock down and notify. Virginia Tech officials did neither until hours after the first shots sounded across the Blacksburg campus in April. Northern Illinois University did not make the same mistake Thursday.

But the university's actions still could not stop a man armed with powerful rapid-fire weapons and the intent to kill as many people as possible, higher-education and safety experts said Friday.

The Virginia Tech killings, in which an emotionally disturbed student fatally shot 32 people, prompted soul-searching, safety reviews and the revamping of danger response plans at colleges and universities nationwide. Thursday's shootings at Northern Illinois provided the first test of one of those plans.

By many preliminary accounts, the university did well: Within 30 seconds of a report of shots fired at Cole Hall, the first officer was on the scene. But he was too late. Stephen P. Kazmierczak, a former graduate student at the school, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and three pistols, had already sprayed more than 50 rounds of buckshot and bullets at panicked students before turning one of his weapons on himself. Six people, including the shooter, were killed, and 16 were wounded.

"We were dealing with a disturbed individual who intended to do harm on this campus," the university's president, John G. Peters, said Friday. "We did everything we could to ensure the safety of this university."

Law enforcement officials said they know little about Kazmierczak's motives. "We have found no notes at this time," said Donald Grady, the campus police chief. "We have no idea what the motive was."

But sketchy information emerged Friday that 10 days before the attack, Kazmierczak ordered the Remington shotgun and a Glock 9mm pistol from a gun dealer in Champaign, Ill., picking up the weapons on Feb. 9 after a five-day waiting period.

On the same day he bought those firearms, Kazmierczak went online and purchased two Glock 33-round magazines that would allow his pistol to carry many more than the standard number of bullets. He bought the magazines from the same Internet company that had sold Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, a .22-caliber handgun.

"I felt just shocked, like I had been hit with a truck," said Eric Thompson, president of Tgscom, a licensed firearms dealer in Green Bay, Wis., which operates the Web site. "There's over 90,000 licensed dealers in the U.S., and what are the chances that my company is involved with two mass murders inside of a year? I'm just dumbfounded."

Kevin Cronin, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, identified the two other weapons Kazmierczak carried as a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol and a Hi-Point .380-caliber pistol. Officials later said Kazmierczak had purchased those weapons earlier from the same gun store in Champaign.

Grady also told reporters that Kazmierczak had stopped taking medication and had been behaving erratically recently, though Grady did not identify the medication or the illness for which he was being treated.

University officials said Kazmierczak was a graduate student at NIU in DeKalb in spring 2007 but had left the school and enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "There were no red flags," Grady told reporters. "He was an outstanding student. We had no indication at all that this would be the type of person to engage in such activities."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company