With minutes left in a geology class at Northern Illinois University Thursday afternoon, a tall, skinny man dressed in black stepped out from behind a curtain on the stage of the lecture hall, said nothing, then opened fire with a shotgun, officials and witnesses said.
The man shot again and again, witnesses said, perhaps 20 times. Students in the large lecture hall, stunned, dropped to the floor.
Five people, all of them students, were killed, said university president John Peters. Sixteen others were injured. Hospital officials said several of the students had been shot in the head. None of them were identified.
The gunman, a graduate student at the university in 2007 who was no longer enrolled, also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Peters said. His body was found on the stage of the lecture hall. He was not identified, and police said they knew of no motive.
Several students in the class said the gunman appeared to fire first at the instructor, a graduate student who was wounded but was expected to recover.
Campus police said three weapons were found with the man's body - two handguns, including a Glock, and the shotgun. He had ammunition left over.
Lauren Carr, a 20-year-old sophomore, said she was sitting in the third row of the lecture hall when she saw the shooter walk through a door on the right-hand side of the stage, pointing a gun. She said she "Army-crawled halfway up the aisle. ... I said I could get up and run or I could die here."
A student in front of her was bleeding, "but he just kept running," she said. "I heard this girl scream, 'Run, he's reloading the gun.'"
Jerry Santoni was in the back row when he saw the gunman enter. "I saw him shoot one round at the teacher," he said. "After that, I proceeded to get down as fast as I could."
Another student, Desiree Smith, told a television station that the gunman aimed first at the instructor.
Details of the teacher's injuries were not available, Peters said.
"This thing started and ended within a matter of seconds," said Donald Grady, university police chief. "It appears he may have been a student somewhere else," he said of the gunman.
The class in Cole Hall was an introductory offering, and most of the 162 students registered for the course were likely freshmen or sophomores, said Jonathan Berg, a department chairman.
Berg, who was about two blocks away in his office when the shooting began, ran over and found injured students sitting on sidewalks outside waiting for ambulances. Some had bandages on their heads, he said.
In the moments after the shooting, university officials put into action a detailed security plan created for such an incident, Peters said. Police officers arrived at the classroom within two minutes, Grady said.
Many universities and colleges around the country designed elaborate lockdown and notification plans in the days and weeks after a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people on the Blacksburg campus on April 16, the worst shooting rampage in modern American history.
"This is a tragedy," Peters said. "But from all indications we did everything we could when we found out."
All classes were canceled Thursday night and the campus was closed today. Students were urged to call their parents "as soon as possible."
The school was closed for one day during final exam week in December after campus police found threats, including racial slurs and references to the Virginia Tech shootings, scrawled on a bathroom wall in a dorm. Police determined after an investigation that there was no imminent threat and the campus was reopened. Peters said he knew of no connection between that incident and Thursday's attack.
Chartered in 1895, Northern Illinois University is a public university with more than 25,000 students, 91 percent of them from inside the state of Illinois. DeKalb is about 65 miles west of Chicago.
Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.
A rash of school shootings
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, a 17-year-old is accused of shooting and critically wounding a fellow student Monday during a high school gym class.
-The 15-year-old victim of a shooting Tuesday at an Oxnard, Calif., junior high school has been declared brain dead. 8A