NIU Had ‘No Reason’ to Suspect Gunman Had Mental Health Issues

Northern Illinois University (NIU) has released its extensive evaluation of its Valentines Day 2008 mass shooting in which five students were killed and 21 more were injured.

Although the report concludes that the response by campus staff and emergency responders was effective and prompt, it also claims that NIU officials had no way of knowing that the shooter, Steven Phillip Kazmierczak, was planning the attack.

“We realize this report brings neither comfort nor closure, but by sharing what we learned while dealing with this tragedy, we add information to the body of research on mass shootings that seem to increasingly plague our society,” said NIU President John G. Peters in a letter that introduced the report.

Here are the study’s main findings:

  • Kazmierczak had a history of poor mental health prior to his matriculation at NIU. It should be noted that institutions of higher education, including NIU, admit students on the basis of academic background and achievement. The admissions process involves no examination of a student’s medical or psychological background, since such an examination would be in violation of both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While Kazmierczak was at NIU, there are no records indicating that he had adverse contact with the local police, NIU police, or any judicial referrals. There would have been no reason for the university to have known or suspected that Kazmierczak had mental health challenges.


  • Shortly after beginning his graduate program at NIU, Kazmierczak perceived that the Sociology Department had undertaken a refocusing of its curriculum which led to a reduced emphasis on criminology. This perception does not appear to have been accurate, as the Master of Arts (M.A.) program currently lists criminology as a specialization; a comparison of the current and the 2006 Graduate Catalogs actually reveals an expansion of courses within the specialization. Kazmierczak’s perception may have contributed to a sense of abandonment. As a result of his perception, Kazmierczak ultimately enrolled in the graduate program in sociology at the University of Illinois.


  • There were no warning signs that Kazmierczak was planning his attack. Kazmierczak was very good at blending into everyday life at NIU and was very private with his personal life. He excelled in academics and was a bright student who received accolades from professors.


  • Northern Illinois University was uniquely prepared for emergency operations and response. Commencing in 2001, the campus community and specifically its Public Safety Department initiated steps to improve campus preparedness. Efforts were undertaken to strengthen the Department of Public Safety, especially through training programs designed to equip officers with appropriate tools to effectively respond to emergency situations. By February 14, 2008, for example, all of the NIU Public Safety personnel were EMT trained and included two paramedic certified officers. In addition, the campus developed an Emergency Operations Plan that organized the campus response to emergencies, providing direction and guidance on specific assignments, responsibilities, protocols, and procedures to be undertaken in the event of such a crisis. These efforts proved critical and life saving in the effective response and follow-up surrounding the February 14 shooting.


  • The NIUDPS response to the incident at Cole Hall was coordinated and timely, as was the triage and evacuation of the wounded.


  • Emergency responders were well trained and prepared to work collectively under an Incident Action Plan that was well rehearsed and efficient.


  • The campus was efficiently locked down during the incident and updates were sent to students via Internet and telephone in order to keep all people safe and informed.


  • Regular emergency exercises keep agencies in DeKalb and NIUDPS connected and sharpened for any incidents.


  • The Office of Support and Advocacy was conceptualized and authorized as the central point of coordination for victims, their families and all other issues related to the tragedy.


  • In response to the incident, one student affairs professional staff member, a liaison, was paired with each family of a deceased student and with each student who sustained a physical injury. The liaison program was expanded and renamed “Victim Advocates” because of its effectiveness and positive reception following the shooting. It now works in many capacities for a variety of victims.


  • Students directly impacted by the incident were contacted by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs in order for the university to better understand how individuals were impacted as well as to refer students in need of counseling to the correct department.


  • The Northern Pact was created to help students understand and embrace student expectations during their time as Huskies. Five principles – just, open, caring, disciplined, and celebrative – were intentionally integrated into the campus culture.


  • NIU has mental health services and prevention programs including a Threat Assessment Team that is now required by Illinois law for all institutions of higher learning. This team is broken into two areas dedicated to students and faculty, respectively.


  • There are a variety of teams that deal with student crisis response, including the Crisis Response Team and Student Threat Assessment Team.


  • Two additional psychologists were hired in the aftermath of the shooting.


  • NIU established a call center that designated seven phone lines as hotlines during the crisis. The number of lines is now 13, and 17 individuals have been pre-assigned and automatically report to answer calls as necessary.


  • Numerous training sessions occurred after the Virginia Tech incident and workshops were held at NIU with authorities on emergency training. Each year a full-scale operations drill is conducted by the NIU Department of Public Safety to ensure smooth execution of operations in a crisis.


  • In response to the crisis, the Counseling and Student Development Center initiated a counseling group for students suffering the loss of a friend in the shooting. The success has led “Healing Huskies” to expand to assist anyone looking for help with the grieving process.


  • After February 14, 2008, Information Technology Services recommended and installed a new text message/notification system that is now operational. Other avenues of electronic notification have been investigated and are being implemented, including the addition of a blast message feature, sent to anyone logged into NIU’s Novell servers, and broadcast messaging to all NIU- IPTV channels for NIU residence halls and classrooms.


  • A complete Emergency Operations Plan has been developed for the ITS headquarters and has been integrated with the main campus Emergency Operations Plan.


  • NIU has addressed the need for homeland security education through a certificate program, an innovative academic alliance with other Illinois public universities, and a widely distributed model course. NIU offers five specialized tracks that prepare students for natural disasters, business interruptions, or acts of terrorism.


  • The university continues to enforce its weapons restrictions policy. This policy applies to all on- and off-campus students.

To read the
full report, click here.

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