- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

CICERO, Ill. (AP) — The middle-class Chicago suburbs that send their sons and daughters to Northern Illinois University struggled yesterday with the closeness of the country’s latest massacre — this time the gunman grew up among them, in a community some consider “Mayberry.”

The tragedy hung over church services throughout the region, including the university’s home in DeKalb where residents have taken to wearing the red and black of the NIU Huskies since five persons were slain in the middle of a science lecture Thursday.

Parishioners at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church in Cicero prepared for the funeral of Catalina Garcia, the youngest of four children of parents originally from Mexico. They are longtime parishioners at Our Lady of the Mount, a tight-knit group of low- and middle-income families, many of them young, with some older Czech and other immigrants.

Miss Garcia, 20, followed a brother, Jaime, to NIU. She was studying to be a teacher, and had talked about coming back to Cicero to teach first grade.

Investigators haven’t determined what set off Steven Kazmierczak, 27, who killed five students and injured more than a dozen others with a shotgun and pistols and took his own life.

He grew up in Elk Grove Village and played saxophone in the school band. He spent time in a mental health facility in his late teens, and police have said without elaboration that he had stopped taking some kind of medication in the days or weeks before the shooting.

His girlfriend, Jessica Baty, told CNN yesterday that he had stopped taking an antidepressant about three weeks ago because “it made him feel like a zombie.” She said she had no indication he was planning anything.

Authorities have speculated that the couple might have split up just before the shooting. Miss Baty, 28, did not discuss the status of her relationship with Kazmierczak, telling CNN only, “I still love him.”

She told CNN that he called her early on the day of the shootings to say goodbye.

Kazmierczak attended NIU, studying sociology. Three semesters ago, he transferred to the more prestigious University of Illinois in Champaign. Most students and professors on both campuses remembered him as a promising student.

Yet he had begun assembling an arsenal in August, buying a shotgun and three menacing handguns from a small Champaign gun shop. He added oversized ammunition clips in an Internet purchase from the same dealer that sold the Virginia Tech gunman a weapon.

Kazmierczak also had begun having his arms blanketed with disturbing tattoos, including a skull pierced by a knife.

Some NIU parents took the shootings as a call to action, speaking out for stricter gun control.

At least six persons remained hospitalized yesterday.

In addition to Miss Garcia, the dead were Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester, Ill.; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville, Ill.; Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota, Ill.; and Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream, Ill.

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