Gunman, ex-honor student treated for mental illness

Shooter obtained guns legally
February 15, 2008 9:32:11 PM PST
The gunman was known as a quiet, polite, engaging student at NIU, but a darker side of Stephen Kazmierczak is now coming to light. Authorities have not figured out what motivated the man, described as a hardworking, award-winning former honor student by NIU faculty, to go on a shooting rampage that killed five students.

Kazmierczak, 27, was treated for mental illness nine years ago. He was considered volatile, according to a staff member who worked at the facility at the time, and violent if he stopped taking the antidepressant and anti-anxiety pills prescribed for him. Including Paxil, it was medication he was supposed to still be taking and apparently stopped a couple of weeks ago.

Shortly after Kazmierczak graduated from Elk Grove Village High School in 1998, his parents became unable to handle him, according to a woman who worked as a residential manager at a psychiatric treatment center for mentally and behaviorally troubled teenagers. Kazmierczak lived at the Mary Hill Home, 7356 N. Winchester, on Chicago's Northwest Side and received psychiatric treatment for more than a year after he was diagnosed as mentally ill in the late 1990s. His parents sent him for treatment.

"He was already on medication, but he was not taking it at home and would not follow instructions," said Louise Gbadamashi, former manager of Thresholds, the company that ran the home. She said the first thing she thought when she learned the shooter was Kazmierczak was, "he didn't take his meds. He was kind of quiet, kept to himself. He picked his friends, he was kind of passive aggressive.

"He was a cutter," said Gbadamashi. "He would cut himself. Then he would let you discover it. He wouldn't tell you, he would roll up his sleeve and ask you a question, and you'd turn around and see it."

She said Kazmierczak's expression rarely changed, so it was hard to tell if he was depressed.

"He strikes out, and you have to really know him," said Gbadamashi. "In his eye, you can see it. You can't look at him like, 'I'm angry, you're going to know it.' It's just stoic, just stoic."

Officials at Thresholds declined to comment for this report. But a former patient who lived at the group home with Kazmierczak spoke to the I-Team.

"You either take the meds and you're fine, or you don't and you snap, kind of like that. And that's all it was with him. When he didn't take his meds, he'd snap," said Jennifer, the former patient.

Hardeep Rooprai was one of his classmates and a friend. She says he told her that he'd been in a psychiatric group treatment home.

"He said he was in a group home, and he said that he was a bad kid," she said.

At their last briefing, Northern Illinois University officials said they had no evidence Kazmierczak had received psychiatric treatment. After he finished treatment and left the group home, he enlisted in the Army but never made it out of basic training. He was "separated" from the Army. There's a report he told his girlfriend he was discharged for psychological reasons.

Despite his history, Illinois gun statutes did not preclude Kazmierczak from legally buying firearms because he had not gotten psychiatric treatment in the last five years.

Kazmierczak studied sociology, acting as a graduate teaching assistant and mentor to undergrads at NIU, before going to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for graduate school.

His faculty adviser, U of I professor Jan Carter-Black, said she's stunned. Carter-Black said she "saw nothing to suggest that there was anything troubling about his behavior."

In 2006, he was a dean's list student and officer on a student criminal justice organization.

Police said Kazmierczak started acting erratically after he stopped taking his medication. That medication and his condition are not known.

Alexandra Chapman was a friend of Kazmierczak.

"He was one of the most genuine people I have ever met. I want people to know that he was a really great person, that he was just a really great guy, he was so kind and would always do anything for you. So it doesn't make sense. I just don't want people to think of him as a monster," said Chapman.

The Weapons

All four of the weapons sued in the attack were legally purchased from a Champaign store, Tony's Gun Shop. Kazmierczak moved to the area in 2007.

Because Kazmierczak had no criminal record and did not cite any psychiatric hospitalization in his past, he obtained a valid Illinois Firearms Owners Identification Card.

Two of the guns- a high-point 380 handgun, a compact pistol with an 8 round magazine, and a Sig Sauer 9mm luger with a 13-round clip, were purchased last year. The handgun was purchased on December 31, 2007 and the Sig Sauer was purchased in August.

The two other guns -- a Remington shotgun and Glock 9-mm pistol with a 15 round magazine-- were purchased on February 9, 2008, just five days before the shooting.

Kazmierczak carried the Remington shotgun, which he fired first and reloaded several times, according to witnesses, in a guitar case.

Kazmierczak grew up in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village and graduated from Elk Grove High School in 1998 with a 'B' average. His mother died shortly after his parents moved to Lakeland, Florida last year. His father did not want to talk to reporters.

"No comment, OK?" said Robert Kazmierczak, NIU gunman's father. "This is a very hard time."

The key to unlocking the mystery of Kazmierczak may be his mental health history. While officials said he was off his medication, they have yet to identify what drugs the 27-year-old was taking.


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