By Marissa Alter
DEKALB (WREX) - More than two years after one of the worst campus shootings in history, we get some insight into what happened at Northern Illinois University on February 14, 2008; how well police responded; and whether it could have been prevented. NIU just released a 322-page report with specific details to the public.
The report is available at NIU's website: http://www.niu.edu/feb14report/
Among the details, Steven Kazmierczak wore a t-shirt with the word "terrorist" printed over a picture of an assault rifle, when he kicked in a door leading to the lecture hall and shot dozens of rounds at the audience. Some students ran towards the exits at the back of the room, others tried to hide between the seats. Some were too stunned to move.
It was all over in less than seven minutes. Catalina Garcia, Daniel Parmenter, Gayle Dubowski, Julianna Gehant and Ryanne Mace were all killed in the attack. 21 other people in Cole Hall were injured before Kazmierczak took his own life.
"The question remained, 'well, why would a young person do this?' And so we have gone to great pains to try and understand the psychology," explains NIU President John Peters.
There were no warning signs and Kazmierczak's professors had nothing but good things to say about him. However, the report finds he did have a long history of mental health problems NIU was unaware of: multiple suicide attempts, a verbally abusive relationship with his mother, and he pulled a knife on his sister years ago. The Army also kicked him out for hiding his mental illness history.
A psychologist suggests Kazmierczak may have viewed the NIU Sociology Department as a "supportive family." He may have been angry at or felt abandoned by the school because he believed it was de-emphasizing his field of study, Criminology. Kazmierczak left NIU for the University of Illinois in 2007.
"Reading this [report], we all relive that day. And this report for me also reaches a certain closure that I think should end the public phase of 2-14," Peters concludes.
He believes the report will help other institutions prepare for and respond to a tragic event. "My guess is presidents are going to be asking their task forces to take the NIU report apart and glean it for best practices and things they should be doing to prepare. I think that will be the long-term legacy of this report."
The case will stay open until investigators are confident every possible question about that day has been answered. The report acknowledges there are still some unknowns, like whether anyone else had any knowledge of Kazmierczak's plans. "We really have a responsibility to find out all we can and to track down every lead. We owe that to the victims," Peters states.
The report also includes how and when police and university officials were alerted to the attack. There are transcripts of some of the police radio traffic from the first hour after the attack was reported to authorities. The investigation concludes NIU was uniquely ready to respond to the attack because it began improving campus preparedness in 2001 and had an Emergency Operations Plan already in place.
It also details the healing the university went through in the two years since the attack and how it beefed up mental health services available on campus.
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