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Diverging profiles of gunman emerge

By Josh Noel and Karoun Demirjian

Even as Northern Illinois University officials made plans Saturday for faculty and students to resume their lives on campus, investigators continued the search for what triggered Steven Kazmierczak’s deadly shooting rampage.

Former NIU professors and students puzzled over whether they ever really knew the former graduate student. To them, Kazmierczak was gracious and high achieving, a brilliant student who read ahead in his courses and left flowers for the secretary of NIU’s sociology department to express his gratitude before transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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But a profile of another Kazmierczak has begun to emerge. Recently, he had initiated contact with his godfather, a former Marine, after more than a decade, to ask his advice on buying a gun and to arrange for the two to meet for breakfast.

He also had developed a penchant for grisly tattoos and told a tattoo artist he wanted to cover his arms with horror movie images.

Students and neighbors who saw him frequently said they never saw the images: a pentagram, a flaming dagger buried in a skull and a clown from the horror film “Saw.”

It was so out of character for the Kazmierczak that friends and relatives knew.

“Steven was always a quiet boy, very smart but very stoic,” said Kazmierczak’s second cousin Nancy Czarnik of Elk Grove Village, who last saw him around Christmas 2006. “He never had trouble with people or with his friends, that’s why this is such a shock.”

Perhaps one of the keys to unlocking the mystery of what sent Kazmierczak over the edge remained missing: the hard drive of his laptop computer, which police removed from the Travelodge motel, NIU police chief Donald Grady said.

“Unfortunately, the hard drive had been removed,” Grady said.

Grady said police still have no motive for the killing spree that left five students dead and 16 wounded.

While Kazmierczak was in DeKalb on Thursday, his roommate in Champaign was in a U. of I. classroom collecting handouts for him.

By many accounts, the roommate and Kazmierczak were inseparable, but not romantically involved.

The two had attended NIU and U. of I. together and shared a two-bedroom apartment in Champaign. That apartment was searched by police Thursday after the shootings, and the roommate was interviewed.

The roommate told police that Kazmierczak “went off his meds and was acting erratic,” Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said. He said DeKalb police handled the search and seizure of items. Finney said he didn’t know what medications she was referring to or if DeKalb police confiscated any.

From many accounts from classmates at U. of I., Kazmierczak was very bright.

“He was very smart. He would memorize the book. Like, a teacher would say something, and he’d say, ‘Oh I’m not sure if that’s correct,” said Jennifer Zerfowski, 22, a master’s candidate who knew Kazmierczak.

In the last six months, Kazmierczak began getting tattoos with motifs from horror movies on his arms.

“He told me he had a thing for scary movies,” said Jason Dunavan, 35, an artist at the Altered Egos tattoo parlor in Champaign.

Even before Dunavan did the most recent tattoos, Kazmierczak had been self-conscious about showing them.

“He wore long-sleeve shirts to cover them, but he showed them to me,” said William Mingus, who studied with Kazmierczak at NIU. “He was embarrassed about them, he didn’t like to show them. It represented a time in his life that he really didn’t want to talk about.”

Recently, Kazmierczak initiated contact with his godfather, and the two were planning to meet Saturday for the first time in almost 15 years.

Kazmierczak first reached out to his godfather, Richard Grafer, Jan. 20 with a phone call saying he wanted to reconnect after his father had a falling out with Grafer. In a second call, Kazmierczak asked Grafer for advice on buying a gun.

“I asked him what he was going to do with them. He said just target shoot,” said Grafer, 66, a retired Cook County Forest Preserve employee.

Grafer remembers him as a smart boy who enjoyed playing chess and fishing.

“Steven was a good kid,” Grafer said. “He had a great heart. He was always wanting to help someone out. I can’t figure out why he would do something like this.”

Students and faculty at NIU’s sociology department were coming to terms with the realization that the man they knew as a warm, charming and high achieving student carried secrets they may never unravel.

“He was gracious, he was generous with his time and he engaged the other students,” department chairwoman Kay Forest said.

Kazmierczak confided in a few people at the department that he had spent time in a “halfway house” before college. No one pushed him for more information, and he didn’t provide details.

“It’s the kind of thing where later you look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I ask more about that,'” Forest said.

NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said faculty and staff will return to campus Tuesday and will undergo training to help students get back to their studies. Classes will resume Feb. 25. One week will be added to the end of the academic calendar to make up for the lost class time. There will be a memorial service on campus Feb. 24.

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