NIU Students Grieve at Vigil

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Students and faculty gathered Friday night for a candlelight vigil on the campus of Northern Illinois University, the site of a deadly shooting on Thursday, in which five students were killed and 16 wounded.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Northern Illinois University campus is still closed today following this week's shooting rampage by a gunman who once attended that school. Twenty-seven-year-old Stephen Kazmierczak killed five students before he took his own life. University officials say it's too early for the school to resume its regular activities. For now, the focus is on healing.

NPR's Cheryl Corley is in DeKalb.

Cheryl, thanks for being with us.

CHERYL CORLEY: You're quite welcome.

SIMON: There've been a number of prayer vigils over the past 24 hours and another last night. How was this one different?

CORLEY: Well, there were hundreds of people, if not a thousand or so, that came to the ballroom of the student center here. There are plenty of students wearing the school colors of red and black, and the university president John Peters told the crowd that they should all start looking for answers tomorrow, but this moment, last night, was simply to grieve. So this was just a much larger prayer vigil. There have been several separate ones held by churches and other groups, and even spontaneous gatherings.

SIMON: What are some of the new details that are getting known about Stephen Kazmierczak as his life is investigated more?

CORLEY: He has really baffled people here. He was considered a model student when he was here and also at the University of Illinois where he transferred too. He was well liked. Authorities say his behavior had been erratic and the other details about his life that have begun to emerge is he served a short time as a prison guard. He was also in the Army briefly and received a discharge for an unspecified reason. So we're learning little bits about him as this investigation continues.

SIMON: And have relatives of the students killed or, for that matter, families of the students who were there been coming to the campus and have you been able to speak with any?

CORLEY: Well, most are keeping to themselves, but the aunt of one of the victims has spoken out. Thirty-two year old Julianna Gehant was sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, and she was shot dead. Her aunt says that she doesn't mind the media glare because it lets people have a chance to know how wonderful her niece was. She called her a free spirit who was family oriented, had been in the military several years and was going to school to become a teacher. It's also interesting that a statement was released by the family to Stephen Kazmierczak. It was really posted to the door of his sister's home in Urbana. It said that the family was really extending their sympathies to the families and victims, but they were shocked as well and saddened. Stephen was a member of their family and they were grieving his loss as well.

SIMON: NPR's Cheryl Corley in DeKalb. Thank you very much.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome.

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NIU Gunman Had 'Stopped Taking Medication'

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Students gather for a prayer service on the campus of Northern Illinois University to pray for those i

Students gather for a prayer service on the campus of Northern Illinois University to pray for those killed and wounded in Thursday's shooting at Cole Hall. hide caption

itoggle caption
Students gather for a prayer service on the campus of Northern Illinois University to pray for those

Students gather for a prayer service on the campus of Northern Illinois University to pray for those killed and wounded in Thursday's shooting at Cole Hall.

The gunman who shot and killed five people at Northern Illinois University before turning the gun on himself had recently become erratic after stopping his medication, authorities said.

The gunman was identified as 27-year-old former student Stephen Kazmierczak. He carried a shotgun in a guitar case along with three handguns into a crowded lecture hall before opening fire on Thursday.

"He had stopped taking medication and become somewhat erratic in the last couple of weeks," Campus Police Chief Donald Grady said, declining to name the drug or provide other details.

Grady said investigators have recovered 48 shell casings and six shotgun shells following the attack.

Two of the weapons — the pump-action Remington shotgun and a Glock 9mm handgun — were purchased legally on Feb. 9, in Champaign, where Kazmierczak was enrolled at the University of Illinois, authorities said.

NIU President John Peters, who defended the university's response to the crisis, said a candlelight vigil was planned Friday night to remember the victims.

Allyse Jerome, 19, a sophomore from Schaumburg, said she was unsure how to react Thursday, when the gunman burst through a stage door and pulled out a gun.

"Honestly, at first everyone thought it was a joke," Jerome said. Everyone hit the floor. Then Jerome got up and ran, but she tripped. Jerome said she "thought for sure he was going to get me."

Senior Anita Hershberger was heading home to Arthur, Ill., after the shooting.

"I myself am in shock and I think a lot of other people are, too," she told NPR. "We heard about (the) Virginia Tech (shooting) and we never really thought something like that would happen here."

She said she hopes to return to help the campus heal.

President Bush on Friday described the shooting as a tragedy and asked people to "offer their blessings."

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