Friday, February 15, 2008

Graduate Student Gunmen

You may have already seen photos of this guy. His name was Stephen Kazmierczak. He was a respected graduate student in sociology at my school. Professor of Social Work Janet Carter-Black, who advised Stephen's research, described him as "engaging, motivated, responsible."

The photo on the left is from his university ID card. My own ID card has a very similar photo taken against the same mute blue background.

Stephen is now dead. He shot himself yesterday after opening fire yesterday in a geology class at his undergraduate alma mater, Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Illinois. He murdered seven students and wounded at least a dozen others before he took his own life.

As you may imagine, this news has shocked and horrified our campus. Everyone is wondering why. So far the search for motive has turned up empty-handed. Unlike the shooter in last year's Virginia Tech massacre, so far no one on our campus who interacted with Stephen has had anything but praise to say of him. We know that he had been on psychoactive medication that he had recently stopped taking, but that's all.

This afternoon I came across an article on NPR detailing the shooting deaths on college campuses in the few decades. I was stunned to learn how many of them were committed by graduate students. It makes me wonder whether the stresses and pressures of graduate life somehow contributed to Stephen's insane decision to storm into that classroom carrying three handguns and a shotgun.
Jan. 16, 2002: Graduate student Peter Odighizuwa, 42, recently dismissed from Virginia's Appalachian School of Law, returns to campus and kills the dean, a professor and a student before being tackled by students. The attack also wounds three female students.

Aug. 28, 2000: James Easton Kelly, 36, a University of Arkansas graduate student recently dropped from a doctoral program after a decade of study, and John Locke, 67, the English professor overseeing his coursework, are shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide.

Aug. 15, 1996: Frederick Martin Davidson, 36, a graduate engineering student at San Diego State, is defending his thesis before a faculty committee when he pulls out a handgun and kills three professors.

Nov. 1, 1991: Gang Lu, 28, a graduate student in physics from China, reportedly upset because he was passed over for an academic honor, opens fire in two buildings on the University of Iowa campus. Five University of Iowa employees are killed, including four members of the Physics Department; two other people are wounded. The student fatally shoots himself.
Now, I'm not saying graduate school makes killers. But it has been shown that graduate school correlates strongly with feelings of being overwhelmed. I wonder if graduate school correlates more strongly with homicidal tendency than does the general population.

Hat tip: NPR


Anonymous said...

Hi Joe

I came across your blog on a google search. We've been doing hours of research into Stephen Kazmierczak history. We run an online news website. We have wondered if perhaps Stephen was struggling with his sexuality.

The story about Danny and Paul and how they struggled to keep their relationship secret because of the risks to Paul's career. Just wondering about your thoughts on the possibility that Stephen may have been gay or BS and struggled with that for various reasons?

Joe Moderate said...

Hi anonymous,

to be honest, it's never crossed my mind that Stephen might have been struggling with his sexual identity.