The gunman who opened fire at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb on Feb. 14, 2008, provided no warnings that he was planning his deadly attack, but suffered from severe mental illness that provides some clues about why he resorted to violence.
Those are some of the conclusions contained in a lengthy report the university released last month to try to better understand why former NIU student Steven Phillip Kazmierczak entered a lecture hall in Cole Hall and opened fire. He killed five students and wounded 21 others before shooting himself to death.
"We realize this report brings neither comfort nor closure, but by sharing what we learned while dealing with this tragedy, we add information to the body of research on mass shootings that seem to increasingly plague our society," NIU president John Peters says in the report.
The report states that although Kazmierczak had suffered previously from mental illness, the university had no indication of mental problems while he attended the university.
"There were no warning signs that Kazmierczak was planning his attack. Kazmierczak was very good at blending into everyday life at NIU and was very private with his personal life. He excelled in academics and was a bright student who received accolades from professors."
Still, a psychological profile of Kazmierczak completed after the tragedy paints a portrait of a schizophrenic personality that began to deteriorate after his mother died and he left his graduate program at Northern Illinois.
"As his depression and thought disturbance reappeared and worsened, they became a fertile ground for Kazmierczak's suspicions, inappropriate ideas and secret plans to seek revenge against those people and institutions he felt had victimized him," says a psychological assessment of the shooter that is part of the report. "…Moral code and personal restraint were overcome by smoldering rage and an uncontrollable urge to punish and maim. The destruction of self and others, long fantasized and often rehearsed, became a tragic reality."
With regard to the university's response to the shooting, the report notes that Northern Illinois bolstered its emergency response plan in the wake of the campus killings a year earlier at Virginia Tech.
"That, in large measure, accounts for the generally high marks the university received for its prompt response and handling of the crisis as well as post-event counseling, grieving, and unifying actions," the report says. "Still, in the wake of the February 14, 2008, shooting, NIU undertook a lengthy and painstaking review of its procedures in an effort to find any shortcomings. While certain refinements have been made to these policies and procedures, their essence remains intact.
The 322-page report is online at www.niu.edu/feb14report/.