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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A man opened fire with a shotgun in a crowded lecture hall at Northern Illinois University on Thursday, wounding at least 17 people before killing himself, authorities said.
Witnesses said terrified students, some of them bleeding profusely from neck and other wounds after being hit by buckshot, fled the classroom after the gunman began shooting seemingly at random from near the front of the room.
"Some girl got hit in the eye, a guy got hit in the leg," George Gaynor, a student who was in the hall told the Northern Star, the student newspaper on the campus.
He said "a skinny white guy with a stocking cap on" began shooting about five minutes before a class on ocean science was to have ended. Another witness said the man suddenly appeared at the front of the auditorium carrying a shotgun and perhaps another weapon and began firing into the audience and at the teacher.
Within two hours of the shooting police said the area had been secured. They said the gunman had killed himself.
"Campus police report that the immediate danger has passed," the Web site of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb said on its Web site. "The gunman is no longer a threat."
A hospital near the campus said 17 people had been treated for gunshot wounds.
One student told local radio that roughly 140 students were in the classroom when the man opened fire. Ambulances swarmed onto the 25,000-student campus, which is 65 miles west of downtown Chicago, and classes were canceled, the university said on its Web site.
One male student said he was sitting in the class, taking notes when the gunman entered from behind a curtain, firing a shotgun. "He was just shooting, and people were screaming."
Kristina Balluff, a student, said the gunman was dressed in black pants, shirt, and was wearing some sort of mask. He came onto the classroom stage, which is elevated above where the students sit, and began firing.
"I looked at this girl next to me and actually said, 'is this real?' I think the professor ... ducked out of the way."
U.S. schools and colleges have suffered a series of shooting incidents in recent years.
A university in Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech, became the site of the deadliest rampage in U.S. history in April last year when a gunman killed 32 people and himself.
Reporting by Andrew Stern and Michael Conlon; Editing by Stuart Grudgings