Kimberly Agee knew that her son Steven Agee II wasn’t going to be her little boy forever.
He had gone off to college at Northern Illinois University, and she knew he was making the transformation from boy to man when he recently told her, “I’m grown up now. You’re going to have to let me go. You don’t have to buy my clothes or buy my shoes. I’m 22. …
“He prepared me for this day,” she said.
But this wasn’t how the separation was supposed to happen. Agee was shot in the chest and killed early Wednesday morning at an off-campus party. The NIU senior was celebrating the start of his Thanksgiving break at the party at a friend’s DeKalb apartment when an argument erupted, then gunshots rang out.
Chaz Thrailkill, 19, of Markham, was charged with first-degree murder in Agee’s death, DeKalb police said. Thrailkill, who was not an NIU student, was arrested about 10:45 a.m. in DeKalb, police said.
Thrailkill’s also charged with aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm. He’s scheduled to appear in DeKalb County Court Monday.
Police released few details about the 2:10 a.m. shooting, but said Agee was “shot two or three times” during an argument with Thrailkill, who remained jailed Wednesday on $3 million bond.
News of the arrest didn’t console Kimberly Agee.
“My son got shot, and I saw him laying on a slab. No last hug,” she said at an impromptu news conference at the Park Forest apartment complex where she lives. “I won’t be having my son home for the holiday.”
She said Agee wanted to transfer after the 2008 Valentine’s Day shootings at NIU that left five students dead.
“We as parents said, ‘You can’t run from everything,’” Kimberly Agee said.
Her son decided to stay.
“This is an ongoing thing at NIU,” Kimberly Agee said. “There needs to be a plan. No parent should sent their child to college and have to do this.
“We never got off the phone without him telling me, ‘I love you.’ The world is not fair. It’s not.”
She said Agee had always been quiet, but he became more outgoing after he transferred from Marian Catholic High School to Thornwood High School in South Holland for his final two years. He graduated in 2007.
At Thornwood, he played football and wrestled, and he ended up earning a four-year academic scholarship to NIU, she said.
“All I asked for him to do was bring that sheepskin home,” Kimberly Agee said.
She said the fifth-year senior, a sociology major, was president of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity on campus and also served as a campus guide for freshmen and prospective students. She said he was to graduate in the spring and that he had several job opportunities lined up, including one in San Diego and one in Tinley Park.
“We sent him to college for prosperity in his future, and then somebody took it upon themselves to gun him down,” she said.
Until the shooting, the party had been loud but peaceful, witnesses said.
But then “words were exchanged between the victim and the suspect,” DeKalb Police Chief William Feithen said. “During that exchange, the victim was shot.”
A friend of Agee’s who hosted the party said he heard three gunshots, then rushed from his upstairs bedroom to see Agee lying bleeding on the floor.
“I thought he’d been shot with a BB gun. But I saw him bleeding through his shirt. My mind just went blank,” said Ryan Chambers, 21. “I didn’t know what to do next.”
Chambers, who had known Agee since high school, rushed to his friend’s side and tried to help.
“He had a blank stare in his eyes At that time I didn’t know if he was alive or not. I told him to hang on,” said Chambers, his voice hushed as he stood in the parking lot outside his Edgebrook Drive apartment.
There had been no problems at the party before the shooting, Chambers said.
“This is so unfortunate cause I knew everybody in the house. Everybody in the house was good people, everybody,” said Chambers, who is from South Holland.
Chambers said he didn’t see the gunman, but said he is angry at what happened to his friend.
“He crashed a life, he crashed a life,” Chambers said of Thrailkill.
Despite the spate of high-profile crimes at NIU in recent years, university officials insisted the campus is safe.
“We go to extraordinary lengths to protect the safety of our students,” said Kathy Buettner, vice president of university relations.
She said the shooting is an example of “epidemic” gun violence that is striking all corners of the country, including colleges.
“It is not unique to this institution. We are not immune, nor is any other college campus or university,” Buettner said.
Since the 2008 lecture hall shootings, NIU also has been shaken by the 2010 murder of freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller, who was slain while visiting a park near campus.
In April, NIU linebacker Devon Butler was critically wounded in an off-campus drive-by shooting that authorities allege was committed by two other students, who are still awaiting trial.
Buettner also said the university can do little to prevent off-campus attacks like the one that killed Agee.
“It happened in a private residence. We don’t control private landlords and off-campus parties students choose to participate in,” she said.
Feithen said police can’t easily avert such shootings, particularly when they occur with no warning in the middle of a party.
“There’s certainly parties, there’s fights on any college campus,” Feithen said.
Feithen said the violence erupted so quickly during the argument that no punches were even thrown before the shots were fired.
Investigators are still looking for the murder weapon, he said, but don’t believe any other guns or weapons were used during the murder.
Agee was fun-loving, always making jokes but never making trouble, Chambers said.
“He tried to look out for people. He was the life of the party.” Chambers said, adding his friend liked to talk about the future and ask people about what they wanted to do with their lives.
“He was a deep dude. I was always having deep conversations with him about life,” Chambers said. “He always pushed you to think.”
Agee planned to head back to the suburbs Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
“I was sure I was going to see him over break,” Chambers said.
Chris Mitchell, a member of the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity, said Agee was respected there as a leader, but also well-liked because of his sense of humor.
“I’m going to miss the smile that Steve put on everyone’s face,” said Chris Mitchell, another fraternity member. “Steve had a real good sense of humor. He loved to laugh.”
Dennis Gutowski, a guidance counselor at Thornwood, said he was stunned by the news of Agee’s death.
“I’m sorry to hear that. He was a good kid. He was always a very upbeat kid. He had an easy smile and was well-liked by his teammates and his coaches,” Gutowski said.
The shooting death “is shocking because Steve would be one of the last kids anybody would shoot. He was a very likeable person and he was not confrontational. He never was one to agitate his teammates or put anyone down,” Gutowski said.
Gutowski, who coached football at Thornwood from 1976 to 1983, returned to the sidelines in 2005 to help resurrect a program that had fallen upon hard times. There were only 95 boys in the entire football program in 2005, but that soon doubled to about 200, Gutowski said. Agee played a role in bringing new life to the football program, Gutowski said.
“We weren’t very successful back then, but the thing is Steve was part of the rebuilding. Numbers were down, but through the examples of upperclassmen like Steve, who welcomed and encouraged the younger players, the program improved,” Gutowski said.
Agee, who started at defensive back and occasionally played wide receiver, was the kind of player coaches love to have on their roster.
“One thing that really jumps out was that he never complained. And, he was a talented kid who had very good speed. Like I said, he was very likeable. He didn’t have an enemy on the team,” Gutowski said.
Contributing: Steve Metsch