5 dead, 16 injured as gunman fires on college lecture hall

Classes were canceled today at Northern Illinois University as police investigated.

.DEKALB, Ill. (AP) – A former student dressed in black opened fire with a shotgun and two handguns from the stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University on Thursday, killing five students and injuring 16 others before committing suicide, authorities said.

The gunman fatally shot four women and a man in a “brief, rapid-fire assault” that sent terrified students running for cover, university President John Peters said. Four died at the scene, including the gunman, and the other two died at a hospital, he said.

Witnesses in the geology class said “someone dressed in black came out from behind a screen in front of the classroom and opened fire with a shotgun,” Peters said.

Lauren Carr said she was sitting in the third row of the lecture hall around 3 p.m. when she saw the shooter walk through a door on the right-hand side of the stage, pointing a gun straight ahead.

“I personally Army-crawled halfway up the aisle,” said Carr, a 20-year-old sophomore. “I said I could get up and run or I could die here.”

She said a student in front of her was bleeding, “but he just kept running.”

“I heard this girl scream, ‘Run, he’s reloading the gun.’ “

Student Jerry Santoni was in a back row when he saw the gunman enter a service door to the stage.

“I saw him shoot one round at the teacher,” he said. “After that, I proceeded to get down as fast as I could.”

Santoni dived down, hitting his head the seat in front of him, leaving a knot about half the size of a pingpong ball on his forehead.

The teacher, a graduate student, was wounded but was expected to recover, the school president said. He did not give details of the injuries.

Peters said the gunman was a former graduate student in sociology at the school, but was not currently enrolled at the 25,000-student campus about 65 miles west of Chicago.

“It appears he may have been a student somewhere else,” university police Chief Donald Grady said, adding that police had no apparent motive.

Seventeen victims were brought to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb, according to spokeswoman Theresa Komitas. One died, two were admitted and three were discharged; five are being evaluated and six others were transferred to other hospitals in critical condition. At least one male died at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, an official said.

Michael Gentile was meeting with two of his students directly beneath the lecture hall when the shootings happened. He could hear the chaos a few feet above his head.

“The shotgun blast must have been so loud,” said Gentile, a 27-year-old media studies instructor. “It sounded like something was dropping down the stairs … We had no idea what this was.”

Then, shorter, sharper noises he recognized as handgun shots.

“There was a pretty quick succession … just pow, pow, pow,” said Gentile, who didn’t leave his office for about 90 minutes. He used a surveillance camera just outside his office to confirm that the people knocking on his door were police.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sent 15 agents to the scene, according to spokesman Thomas Ahern. He said information about the weapons involved would be sent to the ATF’s national database in Washington and given urgent priority. The FBI also was assisting.

All classes were canceled Thursday night and the campus was closed on Friday. Students were urged to call their parents “as soon as possible” and were offered counseling at any residence hall, according to the school Web site.

The shooting was the fourth at a U.S. school within a week.

On Feb. 8, a woman shot two fellow students to death before committing suicide at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge. In Memphis, Tenn., a 17-year-old is accused of shooting and critically wounding a fellow student Monday during a high school gym class, and the 15-year-old victim of a shooting at an Oxnard, Calif., junior high school has been declared brain dead.