On February 14, 2008, at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois, at approximately 3:05 p.m. CST, 27 year old Steven Kazmierczak entered a large auditorium-style lecture hall in Cole Hall (Auditorium 101), where an oceanography class was in session with approximately 120 students present. Kazmierczak was wearing dark brown boots with laces; jeans; a black T-shirt with the word "Terrorist" imposed over an image of an assault rifle; a coat; a black knit hat; and a black utility belt with two magazine holsters, a holster for a handgun, three handguns (a 9×19mm Glock 19, a .380 ACP SIG Sauer P232, and a .380 ACP Hi-Point CF-380), eight loaded magazines, and a spring assisted knife. He also carried in a 12 gauge Remington Sportsman 48 shotgun concealed in a guitar case. He opened the auditorium door with such extreme force that many witnesses described him as "kicking the door in", entering at the extreme southwest corner, near the stage in front of the classroom, and began firing at the students.
He next shot at the instructor, who was standing on the east side of the stage. The instructor tried to run out the exit at the southeast corner, but that door was locked. The instructor then ran out through the main exit at the east end of the classroom, through which the students were trying to leave. Some students who were not able to immediately escape hid under or in between the seats. When Kazmierczak paused to reload after firing three rounds, some students shouted "He's reloading" and began to escape. Others continued to hide or were too shocked to react.
After shooting all six shotgun rounds, Kazmierczak fired on the room's remaining occupants with the 9mm Glock pistol, firing a total of approximately 50 rounds. He was reported to have walked up and down the west aisle and directly in front of or on the stage, firing at people as he went. After firing 47 rounds, he walked back on stage and shot and killed himself before police reached the room. The police recovered 55 un-expended rounds of ammunition from the scene, including two fully loaded magazines containing rounds for a .380 semi-automatic pistol.
A total of 23 people were shot, six of whom died (including the perpetrator, who shot himself before police arrived). One witness reported that the gunman shot at least 30 rounds; police later collected 48 shell casings and 6 shotgun shells.
During a search of Kazmierczak's car, police discovered a CD in the stereo titled "Final CD", which had Marilyn Manson's "The Last Day on Earth" on it.
At the time of the shootings, Kazmierczak was a graduate student in the school of social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was a former NIU Sociology graduate student. NIU Police Chief Donald Grady described him as "an outstanding student" who reportedly had stopped taking psychiatric medication recently and become "somewhat erratic".
Twenty-one people survived the incident with injuries. Seventeen sustained gunshot wounds, while three injured their knees or backs escaping the scene; one injury was undetermined. Of them, three remained in Cole Hall, five had fled to Neptune Hall or its parking lots, one to DuSable Hall, two to the Holmes Student Center Bookstore, two to the Holmes Student Center's Sandburg Auditorium, three to the Health Services Building, and five returned home to seek treatment.
Sixteen of the injured victims were transported to DeKalb's Kishwaukee Community Hospital. One was transferred by helicopter to Rockford's Saint Anthony Medical Center, three to Downers Grove's Good Samaritan Hospital, and one to Rockford Memorial Hospital.
On February 15, another victim sought treatment at Kishwaukee Hospital, bringing the total of hospitalized injured victims to 17. On February 15, seven of the victims were in critical condition, one in good condition, one in stable, and eight discharged, according to Kishwaukee Community Hospital.
Like those killed, all who were injured were from Illinois.
He graduated from Elk Grove High School in 1998, during which he was treated temporarily for mental illness at the Elk Grove Village Thresholds-Mary Hill House psychiatric center, for being "unruly" at home, according to his parents Gail and Robert Kazmierczak. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as a teenager. He later went on to study sociology at Northern Illinois University (NIU). Though his family moved to Florida in 2004, Kazmierczak continued his education in Illinois. He enlisted in the United States Army in September 2001, and was discharged before completing basic training in February 2002 for lying on his application about his mental illness. His mother died in Lakeland, Florida in September 2006 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS). At the time of Steven's death, his father was living in a retirement community in Lakeland.
Kazmierczak graduated from NIU in 2006 where he received the Dean's award in 2006 and was considered a stand-out, well-regarded student. Campus police describe him as a "fairly normal" and "unstressed person." Faculty, students, and staff "revered" him and there was no indication of any trouble. NIU President John G. Peters said that he had "a very good academic record, no record of trouble." Kazmierczak was Vice-President of the NIU chapter of the American Correctional Association; he had also written about the U.S. correctional system, specifically prisons.
In 2006, Kazmierczak, along with two other graduate students and under the lead authorship of a sociology professor, co-authored an academic paper entitled, "Self-injury in Correctional Settings: 'Pathology' of Prisons or of Prisoners?"; it was published in the academic journal Criminology & Public Policy.
He was enrolled at NIU in the spring of 2007, where he took two courses in Arabic and a course called Politics of the Middle East. His research paper was on the subject of Hamas and its social service projects. He left to begin graduate work in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois, where he intended to study mental health issues. He was enrolled part-time at the University of Illinois during the fall of 2007 and worked from September 24 through October 10 at the Rockville Correctional Facility for Women near the Illinois–Indiana border. His reasons for leaving were unclear; he simply, "did not come back to work," according to Doug Garrison of the Indiana Department of Correction. By early 2008, at the time of the shooting, he was again enrolled full-time at the University of Illinois.
Kazmierczak died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after the shooting ended. ABC News reports that his behavior seemed to become more erratic in the weeks leading up to the shooting, and that it is believed he stopped taking medication beforehand. His girlfriend, Jessica Baty, confirmed that Kazmierczak was taking Xanax (anti-anxiety), Ambien (sleep aid), and Prozac (antidepressant), all of which were prescribed to him by a psychiatrist. She said that he stopped taking Prozac about three weeks prior to the February 14 shooting. She also said that, during their two-year courtship, she had never seen him display violent tendencies and she expressed bewilderment over the cause of the rampage. "He was anything but a monster," Baty said. "He was probably the nicest, most caring person ever."
After the shooting, authorities intercepted a number of packages he sent to her, which included such items as a gun holster and ammunition, a textbook on serial killers for her class, the book The Antichrist by Friedrich Nietzsche, and a final note written for her, signed with his given name and family name. The shooting was baffling to those who knew him, as he appeared outgoing and never appeared to have social problems. This has also confused investigators, who have not found a suicide note. Some of Kazmierczak's former NIU roommates described him as a quiet man who usually stayed to himself. They stated that, while fairly normal, they did not see him spend much time with other students.
Kazmierczak described himself as a sensitive person in his personal statement for the University of Illinois graduate school. He also felt victimized during his adolescent years. He expressed interest in helping people with mental problems, and wanted to work with people "in need of direction." Although initial reports said there were no signs, he was considered troubled. A story published by Esquire stated that he had a history of mental illness and attempted suicides, was bullied in high school, and had shown an interest in previous school shootings, particularly those that occurred at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.
According to a report published by the United States Fire Administration, Kazmierczak is believed to have studied Virginia Tech perpetrator Seung-Hui Cho's actions and used a similar modus operandi.
The university's official website reported the possibility of a gunman on campus at 3:20 p.m., within 20 minutes of the shooting. The website then warned students, "There has been a report of a possible gunman on campus. Get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all clear. Avoid the King Commons and all buildings in that vicinity." By 3:40 p.m., all NIU classes were canceled for the remainder of the day and the campus was closed by NIU officials as part of a new security plan devised after the Virginia Tech shootings 10 months earlier. Students were asked to contact their parents as soon as possible.
All NIU Huskie sporting events, home and away, through Sunday were canceled. Most students left campus for the weekend. A spokesman for the ATF stated that agents were dispatched to the scene to assist and to help trace the weapons used. The FBI also sent agents to assist. According to police, Steven Kazmierczak removed the hard drive from his laptop computer and a computer chip from his cell phone and did not leave a note that could help explain why he chose a geology class on Valentine's Day to open fire. Investigators were expected to spend at least three more weeks until releasing a report on the incident.
After February 14, 2008, Cole Hall was closed to the public. Classes that were held in the building's two large auditoriums were relocated. On February 25, 2008 then-Governor Rod Blagojevich and University President John G. Peters proposed the demolition of the current Cole Hall. The proposal came as a response to the traumatic memories of the students who have to attend classes in the building. The proposal would tear down Cole Hall, leave the Cole Hall site as a memorial site, and erect a new building called "Memorial Hall" nearby, at a cost of approximately $40 million.
However, due to mixed emotions on the decision, President Peters sent out a message to all NIU students via their student email accounts, soliciting comments from students and the extended NIU family. In addition, a committee was established to help reach a consensus on the future of Cole Hall.
On May 8, 2008 it was announced that Cole Hall would be remodeled inside and out pending $7.7 million in state funding. This decision was made based on conversations between Dr. Peters and members of the campus community as well as the results of an online survey taken by students and faculty.
On August 27, 2009, the NIU Board of Trustees approved a $9.5 million budget on the Cole Hall renovation project, approximately $8 million of which will come from the aforementioned state funding, and the rest from student fees. The East auditorium, which was the scene of the incident, will no longer be used for classes, and a replacement lecture hall will be built elsewhere on campus. On January 27, 2010, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn came to the NIU campus to release the funds for the renovation of Cole Hall.
On January 14, 2011, the reconstruction at Cole Hall officially commenced. The building re-opened on January 17, 2012. Cole Hall now houses the Anthropology Museum, which was housed in the Stevens Building previously.
On October 2, 2009, a metal sculpture designed by artist Bruce Niemi entitled Remembered was unveiled at Northern Illinois University.
The sculpture is part of a garden built in remembrance of the victims of the NIU shooting, located directly across from Cole Hall. The memorial area also features five red granite walls erected in a half-circle pattern which read "Forward Together Forward Together Forward." The phrase "Forward Together Forward", borrowed from the university's fight song, became a motto and theme used in the healing of the NIU community after the shooting. Each wall features the name of one of the students who died in the shooting. A walking path with benches is also included. The memorial is flanked by trees and shrubbery. The memorial was funded entirely by private donations.
The campus was shut down on December 10, 2007, the first day during exam week, after graffiti was found on a restroom wall warning of a possible shooting. A university spokesman said that the warning, which was discovered December 10, made reference to the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 33 people were killed, but it could not be immediately determined whether the threat was related to the shootings on February 14, 2008. The Chicago Sun-Times reported at that time that an unknown person posted the graffiti in the Grant Towers D residence hall, which included a racial slur and the notation "What time? The VA tech shooters [sic] messed up w/ having only one shooter." However, NIU President John Peters stated that he did not believe that the December incident is connected to the February 14 shootings.
On the 10th year anniversary of the shooting, 19 year old Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 and wounding 17 more. Whether or not Cruz was aware of this is unknown.
- The decal of the T-shirt Kazmierczak wore during the shooting:
- A police officer guards the entrance to Cole Hall after the shooting:
- FBI agents investigate Cole Hall after the shooting:
- A victim is carried away on a stretcher:
- A victim is treated for injuries (slightly graphic):
- A victim is carried away on a stretcher (slightly graphic):
- A parking lot near Cole Hall full of emergency vehicles:
- A victim is carried away on a stretcher:
- A victim is carried away on a stretcher:
- A victim is carried away on a stretcher:
- Undated photo of Kazmierczak, possible driver's license photo:
- Undated photo of Kazmierczak as a child:
- Kazmierczak as a freshman in high school:
- Kazmierczak as a sophomore in high school:
- Kazmierczak as a junior in high school:
- Kazmierczak as a graduate in high school:
- Kazmierczak on Halloween 2007:
- Undated photo of Kazmierczak, possibly during December 2007:
- Kazmierczak's first tattoo, a dagger stabbing through a flaming skull:
- Kazmierczak's second tattoo, Billy the Puppet from the Saw movies, with bleeding gashes in the background:
- Kazmierczak's third and final tattoo, a pentagram: