Reflections about one more mass murder-suicide

Thursday afternoon, 27 year old Steven Kazmierczak — dressed in black and armed with three handguns and a shotgun — returned to his alma mater (Northern Illinois University), strode into a full classroom, armed like some lunatic commando and fired more than 50 rounds into the room, killing six innocent people — then he killed himself.

The local reaction in these cases is almost always – “But he seemed to be such a nice boy”.

His former criminology professor said: “Steve was the most gentle, quiet guy in the world. … He had a passion for helping people.”

My first reaction in these cases is always –Why didn’t he do suicide FIRST?

The clue to Steven Kazmierczak’s life is in the linkage of homicide and suicide.

The multiple murders of strangers, followed by self-killing is the signature of 21st century evil. [If you’re interested in exploring this important topic, I’ve written two “Evil” essays, one of which is posted at .]

Steve worked briefly as a prison guard, but was fired after didn’t report for work one day. He was in the army for half a year, getting out in 2002. The Privacy Act forbids the Army from explaining why Kazmierczak was approved for discharge. In conversation he revealed to a friend that it was a “psychological” discharge. No kidding.

Why this rampage? Kazmierczak left no note. Police seized his computer but the hard drive had been erased. He was on medication but reportedly stopped taking it. We have no details about his mental condition because of “privacy laws”.

For example, Steve Kazmierczak spent a year in “Threshholds-Mary Hill House” after high school — because he was “unruly” at home, whatever that means.

Not long before he returned to his old college intending his grand exit, it seems he just had been dumped by his girlfriend.

Steve was on undisclosed medications. He had stopped taking them about two weeks before the murders.

There are always signs.

One sign looms large among many (and we can expect more to surface now that the veil of privacy that tends to conceal dangerous mind-sets from society is lifted).

At a younger age Steve tended to “cut himself”.

Law enforcement authorities told ABC News that Steve had probably planned the murders when bought the guns from the same gun dealer five days before.

But the guns and ammunition were sold without knowing Steve’s mental status history. Privacy laws prevented the sellers from knowing this information. Would the sales have taken place anyway?

As a student, young Kazmierczak had reportedly “promoted understanding of the criminal justice system” with a special focus on self destructive behavior. [Kazmierczak co-authored a 2006 piece entitled “Self-Injury in Correctional Settings: ‘Pathology’ of Prisons or of Prisoners”. Reportedly he planned to co-author an article on the role of religion in the formation of early prisons.]

In this topic he was more expert that anyone apparently realized.

What are to make of all this?

First, I notice three things that were undoubtedly true for young Steve Kazmierczak:

He was being highly deceptive; i.e., there was the cheerful do-gooder on the surface and beneath that, well hidden, lurked an angry soul, so frustrated in isolation, so immersed in grievance-saturated moral narcissism, that Steve didn’t care how he would be remembered, just that he would not soon be forgotten.
He was disconnected from family, church or any other meaningfully therapeutic community.
He was utterly “free” from any sense of transcendent accountability; this was one of those all-too-common personalities who actually think we can be evil in this life, then exit without ever being confronted with moral examination.

The “nice boy” mask is all too common in these cases; it is inevitably coupled with a covert mental illness history. Allow me to make two larger points, here:

(a) It would be too facile and even trivial to complain that he was without religion; rather I would say that he was without a good religion, or its equivalent, namely he – and by extension anyone capable of doing what he did on this grim occasion – would necessarily lack a spiritual and ethical discipline devoted to the love of life, and opposed to life’s enemies in all their forms.

(b) It is impossible not to notice that our society’s obsession with privacy has an unintended side effect: It forces us to live with more bizarre violence than we need to…


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