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Published: Monday, 2/18/2008

NIU gunman called to say good-bye, ex-girlfriend says

FROM THE BLADE'S WIRE SERVICES
Baty Baty
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CHICAGO - The former girlfriend of Steven Kazmierczak, the gunman who opened fire last week at Northern Illinois University, said yesterday that he called her to say good-bye before he stormed a lecture hall at the campus with four guns and opened fire, killing five students and then himself.

"He called me at midnight and told me not to forget about him," Jessica Baty, 28, said in an interview broadcast on CNN. He then told her good-bye, the network reported.

Police said he had gone off prescribed medications in the weeks before the attack and that he had been acting erratically.

But Ms. Baty said that erratic wasn't the word for Kazmierczak's behavior.

She said he was "normal," though "quicker to get annoyed," she told the network.

She said she was aware that he bought two guns, which he told her were for home security. She also said he stopped taking his medication three weeks ago.

In the days leading up to the shooting, she noticed no indication that he was planning something, Ms. Baty told CNN.

Police believe a few days before the shooting, Kazmierczak traveled to DeKalb from Champaign, where he was a graduate student at the University of Illinois. He checked into a motel near campus.

Kazmierczak and Ms. Baty met while both were undergrads at NIU, she said in the CNN interview. They later joined the same master's program in the school's sociology department in fall, 2006, classmates said. Friends and professors described Kazmierczak as a model student who was passionate about the criminal justice system.

Then last spring, Kazmierczak transferred to the University of Illinois, saying he wanted to study social work, according to a classmate.

Ms. Baty went with him.

Investigators still haven't determined why Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire.

Ms. Baty shed no light on a motive yesterday.

"The person I knew was not the one who went into Cole Hall and did that," Ms. Baty told CNN. "He was anything but a monster. He was probably the nicest, [most] caring person ever."

The day of the shooting or the day after, Ms. Baty received a package from Kazmierczak containing two textbooks, a cell phone, and what she characterized as a "good-bye note."

"You've done so much for me," the note said, according to Ms. Baty. "You will make an excellent psychologist and social worker someday."

Another package contained a gun holster and ammunition. She confirmed that he had stopped taking an anti-depressant about three weeks ago because "it made him feel like a zombie," but she denied that his recent behavior was unusual.

"He wasn't erratic. He wasn't delusional. He was Steve; he was normal," Ms. Baty said.

The tragedy hung over church services yesterday throughout the region, from the university's home in DeKalb on Chicago's western exurban edge, to Elk Grove Village, where the gunman grew up, to blue-collar Cicero bordering Chicago.

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 Guadalajara, Mexico. They're 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.

"Their parents are making all sorts of sacrifices to make sure the kids get into colleges. They're selling things, they're taking out second mortgages on their homes," the Rev. Lawrence Collins said at the church.

Ms. Garcia, 20, followed a brother, Jaime, to NIU, the choice of many working-class, Chicago-area families. She was studying to be a teacher and had talked about returning to Cicero to teach first grade.

Kazmierczak grew up in Elk Grove Village, and played saxophone in the school band.

Kazmierczak's family has moved away, but the shooting still echoed in the town near O'Hare International Airport.

Resident Pat Egan, a heating and cooling repairman whose son goes to NIU, described the suburb as "Mayberry."

At least six people remained hospitalized yesterday, with three in serious condition. The other three were in fair condition. A seventh patient, who had been upgraded to fair condition Saturday, was transferred from Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, spokesman Laura Taylor said. She did not say where the patient was transferred.

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



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