CHICAGO - A black-clad gunman turned a university lecture into a Valentine's Day massacre Thursday, killing six people before turning the gun on himself in the latest episode of US school violence, authorities said.
Armed with a shotgun and two handguns, he calmly stepped out from behind the curtain at the front of a packed auditorium just minutes before a geography class ended at Northern Illinois University, officials and witnesses said.
"It started and ended within a matter of seconds," university police chief Donald Grady said at a press conference outside this Midwestern US city.
"We have no apparent motive at this time," Grady said. "The suspect killed himself on the stage."
Grady would not identify the six victims or confirm reports that a teacher was among the 18 people shot.
Witnesses said the shooter, described as a white male around six feet (1.8 meters) tall, said nothing as he opened fire.
"He was aiming towards the crowd but I don't think he was aiming at a specific person," a witness named Sheila told WBBM radio.
"He was quiet. He just stood on the stage in front of everybody and just started shooting."
"I saw him holding the gun and it was huge. I thought it was fake and then I realized he was really shooting at people and I got down," she said.
"I saw a lot of blood. I have blood all over my clothes."
Officials of the 112-year-old university 65 miles (105 kilometers) west of Chicago gave out few details of the incident.
"It has been confirmed that there has been a shooting on campus and several people have been taken away by ambulance," its website said.
A spokesman for nearby Kishwaukee Community Hospital earlier said 17 wounded victims had been brought in. Students described now-familiar scenes of panic in the fifth school shooting in the United States in the last week.
"I saw a lot of confusion," Dominique Broxton, 22, told the Chicago Tribune, describing the scene from her dorm room. "Students were running. People really didn't know what was going on."
The shooting came 10 months after 32 students and faculty were shot down by a mentally disturbed student at Virginia Tech University in the deadliest massacre ever at a US school.
Chicago has long been noted for the Valentine's Day Massacre of February 14, 1929, when seven people were executed by machine-gun, in a Mafia killing during the city's gangster heyday.
Northern Illinois University, chartered in 1895, is a teaching and research institution with a student enrolment of more than 25,000 and nearly 1,300 teachers.
It has 862 international students from 88 nations. Broxton said she could see two wounded students from her dorm room.
"The ambulance took away two students on the ground right outside my dorm," she said. "I don't know them. They looked bloody. Where I am right now, there are a lot of police, at least a dozen.
There are police cars and trucks everywhere." "There is an intercom system inside the dorm.
Someone came on and stated that someone had been caught. They said they caught the shooter and that we should remain calm and stay in our rooms." -AFP/vm