DEKALB, Ill. (AP) _ The police chief at Northern Illinois University replays the chaos over and over in his mind: sprinting, pistol in hand and reading glasses still on, through waves of screaming students at a lecture hall.
Donald Grady remembers kneeling over the wounded and dying as the gunman's body lay on stage, dead of a gunshot wound.
And he still wonders weeks later: Could he have done more to prevent the deaths of five students when a former student opened fire in the crowded hall on Valentine's Day?
"I know intuitively there's nothing I could have done to protect them," he told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "But it doesn't change the fact that, inside, I feel like I wanted to be able to do something."
Grady has SWAT team training and has advised governments and militaries in war-torn countries, but the shooting, he said, was the "ugliest" test of his career. And it was one that reinforced and, in some ways, softened the gruff persona that had sometimes caused him trouble.
Crises aren't new to the Beloit, Wis., native.
Grady scrambled to rescue trapped peacekeepers during a riot in the Balkans in the late '90s, when he led a 300-person United Nations peacekeeping force.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, he played a central role in creating a police force composed of civil war foes — Muslims, Croats and Serbs. He helped set up police schools in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia.
He spent most of 2007 in Iraq advising that country on building a new police force.
When it came to domestic police work, though, characteristics that helped him excel in a military environment sometimes caused problems.
After he became Wisconsin's first black police chief in the mostly white town of Bloomer in 1989, he created a stir by issuing nearly 300 tickets, including to himself, for violations of a snow-shoveling ordinance.
When he became Santa Fe, N.M., chief in 1994, he ordered officers to stop accepting free cups of coffee on the job and banned bolo ties, popular among police in the West. He further infuriated officers by imposing longer shifts.
"He was like watching the movie 'Patton,'" said Greg Solano, who headed Santa Fe's police union when Grady was there. "He was always like, 'Things are done my way or the highway.'"
Police officers responded by adopting a 103-5 no-confidence vote in their boss. Grady later resigned, saying his reforms had encountered too much resistance.
After being hired at NIU in 2001, there was friction between Grady and the student newspaper, the Northern Star.
Editor John Puterbaugh said Grady often withheld standard crime reports, requiring the paper to file Freedom of Information Act requests. He said there are aspects of Grady's personality that made the reporters' jobs more difficult.
But Grady has been praised for preparing the campus police department. He boosted the number of training programs for officers and required they all be certified in first aid.
He had plans for various crisis scenarios, including an on-campus shooting. Grady had ordered his officers to go after a gunman immediately.
On the day of the shooting, the 6-foot-5 Grady ran into the mayhem, scanning hands in the crowds for an escaping gunman. It took 90 seconds for the former star sprinter to cover the 400 yards between his office and the red-bricked lecture complex. He told some officers to guard the rear exit, others its perimeter.
Then he turned to three officers: "You, you and you. With me." At the entrance to Auditorium 101, Grady took point, two officers on his flank, one at his back, in diamond formation. He pulled open the door.
The shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, already was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, weapons strewn about him
Blood flowed down aisles. Shoes were scattered everywhere, lost by students as they bolted for the doors. Some students were still in their seats, unable to take their eyes off the gunman.
Criminology major Maria Ruiz-Santana, 20, had wounds to her chest, head and neck from a shotgun blast. She said Grady arrived and held her hand, talking to her to keep her from slipping into unconsciousness.
"If he didn't get there right away, I might well be dead," she said.
Grady visited her at the hospital several times, encouraging her not to abandon her dream of becoming a police officer. Ruiz-Santana told him he was her hero — the kind of talk that makes Grady squirm.
"I lost five people, five family members," he said. "I still think to myself: A real hero would have found a way to do something not to lose five people that day."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.