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NIU Students Grieve at Vigil

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Northern Illinois University campus is still closed today following this week's shooting rampage by a gunman who once attended that school. Twenty-seven-year-old Stephen Kazmierczak killed five students before he took his own life. University officials say it's too early for the school to resume its regular activities. For now, the focus is on healing.

NPR's Cheryl Corley is in DeKalb.

Cheryl, thanks for being with us.

CHERYL CORLEY: You're quite welcome.

SIMON: There've been a number of prayer vigils over the past 24 hours and another last night. How was this one different?

CORLEY: Well, there were hundreds of people, if not a thousand or so, that came to the ballroom of the student center here. There are plenty of students wearing the school colors of red and black, and the university president John Peters told the crowd that they should all start looking for answers tomorrow, but this moment, last night, was simply to grieve. So this was just a much larger prayer vigil. There have been several separate ones held by churches and other groups, and even spontaneous gatherings.

SIMON: What are some of the new details that are getting known about Stephen Kazmierczak as his life is investigated more?

CORLEY: He has really baffled people here. He was considered a model student when he was here and also at the University of Illinois where he transferred too. He was well liked. Authorities say his behavior had been erratic and the other details about his life that have begun to emerge is he served a short time as a prison guard. He was also in the Army briefly and received a discharge for an unspecified reason. So we're learning little bits about him as this investigation continues.

SIMON: And have relatives of the students killed or, for that matter, families of the students who were there been coming to the campus and have you been able to speak with any?

CORLEY: Well, most are keeping to themselves, but the aunt of one of the victims has spoken out. Thirty-two year old Julianna Gehant was sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, and she was shot dead. Her aunt says that she doesn't mind the media glare because it lets people have a chance to know how wonderful her niece was. She called her a free spirit who was family oriented, had been in the military several years and was going to school to become a teacher. It's also interesting that a statement was released by the family to Stephen Kazmierczak. It was really posted to the door of his sister's home in Urbana. It said that the family was really extending their sympathies to the families and victims, but they were shocked as well and saddened. Stephen was a member of their family and they were grieving his loss as well.

SIMON: NPR's Cheryl Corley in DeKalb. Thank you very much.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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