Ex-worker says NIU gunman spent time at psychiatric rehab center

By Tamara Starks

CHICAGO – The 27-year-old man who fatally shot five students at Northern Illinois University before committing suicide used to cut himself and once lived at an inpatient psychiatric rehabilitation center in Chicago, a former employee said Friday.

Steven Kazmierczak spent more than a year at the Thresholds-Mary Hill House in Chicago, where his parents placed him after high school because he had become “unruly” at home, former house manager Louise Gbadamashi told The Associated Press.

Kazmierczak was very complex, at times every engaging and obviously very intelligent, she said. But he could also be passive-aggressive and had to be encouraged to socialize because he preferred to stay in his room and work on his computer.

“He never wanted to identify with being mentally ill,” she said. “That was part of the problem.”

Gbadamashi said she was in charge of teaching clients life skills, such as how to budget, basic cooking and how to socialize. She said she was there at the same time as Kazmierczak, in the late 1990s.

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A man who answered the telephone at Mary Hill House on Friday night referred a reporter to officials in the company’s corporate office. They did not immediately return messages left after business hours.

Authorities said Friday they were looking for reasons Kazmierczak committed the murders but University Police Chief Donald Grady said, without elaborating, that he had became “erratic” recently after stopping taking his medication. A message left with NIU police Friday evening was not returned.

“We had no indications at all this would be the type of person that would engage in such activity,” Grady said at a news conference Friday. Kazmierczak was a good student and “fairly normal” person, he said.

Relatives of the gunman have not spoken publicly about him, but said in a statement they were “shocked and saddened.”

Gbadamashi said Kazmierczak often resisted taking his medications and would lose privileges, such as passes to spend time at home. Police have said he stopped taking his medication about two weeks ago, making him “erratic” in the days leading up to Thursday’s attack at the school in DeKalb.

But, she said, Kazmierczak eventually became “compliant.”

She said he was a “cutter,” inflicting small cuts on his arms, in an effort to gain attention. She said the wounds were minor and she thought they were done because he saw how the staff responded to another person at the home with a more serious cutting problem.

Gbadamashi said she couldn’t remember any instances of Kazmierczak being violent, saying he preferred to avoid conflict.

“He wasn’t that kind of guy who would fight. He would run,” she said.

Gbadamashi said she came forward after seeing a media report that referred to Kazmierczak as a “madman” because she was offended by the ignorance that showed about those with mental illness.

“It’s the illness,” Gbadamashi said. “People don’t understand what that means.”