Sunday, February 17, 2008

DEKALB, Ill. — Steven Kazmierczak, at 27, looked like an average schoolboy — except that his arms were covered with disturbing tattoos, including a doll from the horror movie “Saw.”

Professors and students knew him as a bright, helpful scholar, but his past included a stint in a mental health center.

Many saw him as happy and stable, but he had developed a recent interest in guns and was involved in a troubled — possibly abusive — on-again, off-again relationship.

What people initially told police about the Northern Illinois shooter didn’t add up, and now investigators are searching for answers to what triggered Thursday’s bloody attack, in which five students were killed and 16 more injured before Kazmierczak committed suicide.

While searching for a motive, authorities questioned family and friends and tried to determine whether he had recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend.

One person who knew the couple, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said the couple’s relationship was “really rocky.”

“He was abusive, had a temper,” the person said. “He didn’t actually hit her; he would push her around.”

He also had a history of mental illness and had become erratic in the past two weeks after he stopped taking his medication, said university Police Chief Donald Grady.

A former employee at a Chicago psychiatric treatment center said Kazmierczak had been placed there after high school by his parents. He used to cut himself and had resisted taking his medications, she said.

Kazmierczak spent more than a year at the Thresholds-Mary Hill House in the late 1990s, former house manager Louise Gbadamashi told the Associated Press. His parents placed him there after high school because he had become “unruly” at home, she said, though she couldn’t remember any instances of him being violent.

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

Police went through the belongings he left at a DeKalb motel in search of clues. Authorities found a duffel bag, with the zippers glued shut, that Kazmierczak had left in the room, said Lt. Gary Spangler of the DeKalb Police Department. A bomb squad safely opened the bag Friday, Lt. Spangler said.

He would not comment on what was found in the bag. The Chicago Tribune, citing law-enforcement sources, reported that investigators found ammunition inside. Kazmierczak also left behind a laptop computer, which was seized by investigators.

The discoveries added to the puzzles surrounding Kazmierczak, a graduate student who had once studied at Northern Illinois University and later transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He also had a short-lived stint as a prison guard that ended abruptly when he didn’t show up for work. He was in the Army for about six months in 2001-02, but he told a friend he’d gotten a psychological discharge.

Aaron Funsfinn, a friend who knew Kazmierczak at NIU, noted that Kazmierczak had become interested in guns in recent years, but said he wasn’t alarmed by his friend’s outspoken support for gun ownership.

“He was very rational and reasoned,” said Mr. Funsfinn, 23.

Kazmierczak’s godfather, Richard Grafer, said yesterday that his godson told him Tuesday that he had broken up with a girlfriend before Christmas, but “he wasn’t distraught.”

“He seemed fine, great. We were laughing and talking and telling jokes.”

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