Last Day On Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter

Full access to all the police files. A school shooter’s e-mails, mental health records, sexual history, family history, everything.

On Valentine’s Day 2008, Steve Kazmierczak killed five and wounded eighteen at Northern Illinois University, then killed himself. But he was an A student, a Deans’ Award winner. How could this happen?

CNN could not get the story. The Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times, and all others came up empty because Steve’s friends and professors knew very little. He had reinvented himself in his final five years. But David Vann, investigating for Esquire, went back to Steve’s high school and junior high friends, found a life perfectly shaped for mass murder, and gained full access to the entire 1,500 pages of the police files. The result: the most complete portrait we have of any school shooter. But Vann doesn’t stop there. He recounts his own history with guns, contemplating a school shooting. This book is terrifying and true, a story you’ll never forget.

PEN CENTER USA 2012 Literary Awards finalist in Creative Nonfiction

Winner of the AWP Nonfiction Award

National Book Critics Circle 12 best small press books of 2011 (Rigoberto Gonzalez)

David interviewed in documentary films by the BBC, CNN, and E! Entertainment.

Foreign editions: French, Mandaran (Taiwan)

“I hated reading Last Day on Earth, but I kept coming back to it. Each chapter was taut, mysterious and compelling. And when I did stop reading—I devoured it in three sittings—I was haunted by Steve, a mass murderer, and his slow, steady transformation from Dean’s Award winner to shooter. What makes this book especially appealing is the parallel narrative—the writer living a screwed up childhood, who, like Steve, finds himself in the possession of many guns and the urge to use them and potentially do harm. What the writer discovers is that the line between self destruction and survival and success is frighteningly easy to cross. Last Day on Earth is written with a cold staccato passion—with intensive attention to intimacy of detail. It is riveting reading.” —Lee Gutkind, founding editor, Creative Nonfiction

“Vann’s story, originally commissioned by Esquire magazine and winner of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, is complicated, but he tells it with grace and clarity. Kazmierczak’s inner life was bleak, to put it mildly. The word ‘bleak,’ though, has to be qualified. Vann’s look at Kazmierczak is unflinching and careful; he presents exceedingly well-organized research on the shooter, a fleshed-out play-by-play of his life from young adulthood up until the attack, replete with quotes from e-mails, papers, and chat messages that trace his slow descent from a troubled young man with promise into one quietly spiraling out of control.” —Max Winter, Boston Globe

“A carefully crafted account of a descent into fatal madness.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Foregoing the fear-mongering and sensationalizing of most media outlets, Vann really does paint a sympathetic portrait of this shooter.”—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

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