DEKALB, Ill. (AP) A man dressed in black opened fire with a shotgun and two handguns from a stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University on Thursday, killing four people and injuring several others before committing suicide, authorities said.
University Police Chief Donald Grady confirmed the deaths following a news conference, according to local newspapers.
It was not clear whether the dead victims were among the 18 people school President John Peters had reported as wounded. He wouldn’t confirm any fatalities other than the gunman.
Witnesses in the geology class said “someone dressed in black came out from behind a screen in front of the classroom and opened fire with a shotgun,” Peters said.
The gunman shot himself on the stage after a brief rampage that sent terrified students screaming, crying and running for the doors around 3 p.m.
“At this point I’m being told it was less than two minutes,” Grady said. “This thing started and ended in a matter of seconds.”
Grady said the gunman was not a student at the school. “It appears he may have been a student somewhere else,” he said, adding that police had no apparent motive.
Seventeen victims were brought to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb, according to Theresa Komitas, a spokeswoman. Three were in extremely critical condition.
Five were airlifted to other hospitals, including a female with a chest injury and two other victims with head injuries. One patient there died, a male but not the shooter, Komitas said.
George Gaynor, a senior geography student, who was in Cole Hall when the shooting happened, told the student newspaper the Northern Star that the shooter was “a skinny white guy with a stocking cap on.”
He described the scene immediately following the incident as terrifying and chaotic.
“Some girl got hit in the eye, a guy got hit in the leg,” Gaynor said outside just minutes after the shooting occurred. “It was like five minutes before class ended, too.”
Witnesses said the young man carried a shotgun and a pistol. Student Edward Robinson told WLS that the gunman appeared to target students in one part of the lecture hall.
“It was almost like he knew who he wanted to shoot,” Robinson said. “He knew who and where he wanted to be firing at.”
Jillian Martinez, a freshman from Carpentersville, told the Chicago Tribune she was in the auditorium when the gunman entered through a door to the right of the lectern and opened fire about 3 p.m. “He just started shooting at all the kids,” she said. “He just started shooting at people, and I ran out of there as fast as I could. I ran all the way to the student center; when I got there I could still hear shooting (from the classroom).
Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting local authorities at the scene, spokesman Thomas Ahern told the Chicago Tribune.
“We will be urgently tracing the firearms and learning the history of the weapons,” Ahern said.
All classes were canceled Thursday night and the 25,000-student campus was closed on Friday. Students were urged to call their parents “as soon as possible” and were offered counseling at any residence hall, according to the school Web site.
The school was closed for one day during final exam week in December after campus police found threats, including racial slurs and references to shootings earlier in the year at Virginia Tech, scrawled on a bathroom wall in a dormitory. Police determined after an investigation that there was no imminent threat and the campus was reopened.
The shooting was the fourth at a U.S. school within a week.
On Feb. 8, a woman shot two fellow students to death before committing suicide at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge. In Memphis, Tenn., a 17-year-old is accused of shooting and critically wounding a fellow student Monday during a high school gym class, and the 15-year-old victim of a shooting at an Oxnard, Calif., junior high school has been declared brain dead.