Friday, February 15, 2008

The Assassin Next Door

Thursday at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, 27-year-old Steven Kazmierczak entered a lecture hall dressed in black and wearing a black stocking cap. Armed with a shotgun and three handguns, he opened fire on over 100 students, killing five and injuring 16 before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.

Kazmierczak had been a master's student in Sociology at NIU but may have transferred to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to NIU President John Peters, "By all accounts that we can tell right now (he) was a very good student that the professors thought well of." Kazmierczak had no arrest record or contact with the police. His motive is currently unknown, but the most recent reports indicate that he may have stopped taking prescribed medication and his behavior had become erratic.

This is the fourth such shooting in the United States in the past week. The others occurred in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Memphis, Tennessee and Oxnard California. My sympathies extend to all the victims and their families for what are truly horrifying events.

But what I find most frightening about the NIU shooting is Kazmierczak's apparent normalcy. Classmates and teachers describe him as a good student, sociable and helpful. He isn't emerging as the typical misfit with an ax to grind and access to guns.

Something happened to make Kazmierczak snap, yet no one seems to know what it was. Perhaps details about his past will emerge and bring his actions into sharper focus. But for now, all we have is a picture of a smiling guy-next-door assassin who could have been anybody. Who, in fact, was.

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