NIU police no closer to releasing report on gunman

By The Associated Press

DEKALB, Ill. – If Donald Grady had his way, the Northern Illinois University police chief would never again hear the name of the gunman who opened fire from a lecture hall stage one year ago Saturday, fatally shooting five students in a geology class before killing himself.

“Why give the guy the notoriety he sought?” says Grady, the lead investigator charged with issuing a final police report on the Feb. 14, 2008 attack. “That might only encourage someone else with mental issues to try and do the same thing one day.”

But with a full year passed and no sign of the investigative report, there’s no chance of fulfilling Grady’s wish to banish Steven Kazmierczak’s name from public discourse.

Grady brushes aside critics who insist his findings are long overdue. Just days before the first anniversary of the shootings, the gruff, no-nonsense police chief said there’s no dispute about what he deems the most important facts.

“You want to know who the suspect is? You know that. He’s dead,” said Grady, his booming voice rising. “You want to know how many guns he had? You know that. You want to know how many victims there were? You know that. What else do you need to know?”

Indeed, it took only hours for authorities to piece together the rampage that lasted mere minutes:

Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old former NIU student, stepped from behind a screen on the lecture hall stage, carrying at least four guns. He fired dozens of shots into a geology class, killing five and wounding 19 others before turning a gun on himself.

Killed were Gayle Dubowski, 20; Catalina Garcia, 20; Julianna Gehant, 32; Ryanne Mace, 19; and Daniel Parmenter, 20.

Still, some family members say without the final report, they wonder. Joe Dubowski, whose daughter, Gayle, was shot in the head, said without every detail of her last moments, he’s left “guessing or imagining things.”

“Being a pretty analytical person, I want to know as much as I can about situations,” said the software developer from Carol Stream.

Among his questions: “What was she was doing in her last moments? … Was she standing up? Was she lying down? Or was she sitting there, as some students were, in shock, not even moving?”

The most difficult question may be unanswerable: Why did Kazmierczak do it?

Grady said he still has thousands of investigative papers to read, and even holds out hope that a hard drive apparently discarded from Kazmierczak’s laptop before the attack might turn up; no suicide note ever was found, no motive pinpointed. Officials and friends have said Kazmierczak struggled with mental health troubles.

The chief does intend to release his report – but said it could be months, even years, from now. With no additional suspects or indication of accomplices, Grady said, “this case just isn’t as high a priority anymore.”

The lack of urgency appears in sharp contrast to the response to the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people dead. Two voluminous reports were released within five months, one by a governor’s panel and another by the school.

After the Virginia Tech massacre, though, both police and the school were heavily criticized, with parents and others saying a slow reaction enabled gunman Seung-Hui Cho to claim more victims before killing himself. There was clamor for a quick, full accounting.

No such clamor followed the NIU slayings.

NIU instead won praise from a state panel and others for quickly alerting the student body of nearly 25,000 to a campus shooting. Campus officers burst into the classroom within minutes of the first 911 calls – only to find Kazmierczak dead, weapons strewn about him.

Grady notes even Virginia State Police, which has led the Virginia Tech investigation, has not released all documents or a final report.

VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the agency opened all evidence possible, but witness statements, crime scene photographs and tapes of 911 calls are not included.

“I can tell you, you don’t want to hear those tapes,” Geller said of the 911 calls. “If you can tell me one good reason why the public needs to hear these students, some in their final moments and begging for their lives, I’d listen.”

NIU police also have refused to release 911 tapes.

Jim Thomas, an NIU sociology professor who once taught Kazmierczak and maintained a friendship with him and his girlfriend, contends it’s not up to Grady to decide whether a final report is relevant.

He said he understands many survivors and their families aren’t pressing Grady, in part because some credit his department’s swift action with saving lives.

“I know some of the families think Grady walks on water,” Thomas said. “But we’re talking about information that should be made public, including to help some people bring closure.”

Grady won’t discuss investigative details, but said he has tried to help bring closure, including by accompanying survivors into the red-bricked Cole Hall where the carnage took place.

Maria Ruiz-Santana, 21, who says Grady saved her life the day of the shootings, said her return to Cole Hall brought on flashbacks of Kazmierczak firing from the stage.

“I wanted to go back because I felt that was the way for me to heal completely, emotionally,” she said.

For relatives of those killed, Grady has answered pointed questions about where and how a loved-one was gunned down.

“Families always have questions, of course,” Grady said. “But they understand that, even with a report, many of their questions will never be answered.”

Mark DeBrauwere’s daughter, Lauren, was wounded when a bullet entered her abdomen, hit her liver and colon and ended its path lodged in her left chest. Parmenter, one of those killed, was her boyfriend. But DeBrauwere said neither he nor his daughter need a police report.

“As far as I’m concerned it was closed after day one,” he said. “All the answers left when (Kazmierczak) killed himself.”

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Associated Press Writer Caryn Rousseau contributed to this report.