Palatine lost its innocence long ago, somewhere in the hurly-burly after World War II.

Crime came to town as the population doubled and redoubled in the decades of growth. Burglarly. Drugs. Gangs. Even the occasional ghastly murder to remind residents that "it can't happen here" is a cliche that has passed into irrelevance.

In that respect, the franchise-choked suburb of 42,000 residents was little different from the communities that surround it- Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights and Schaumburg-villages that time has not forgotten.

But now Palatine has joined a different roster of towns, one that includes Killeen, San Ysidro, Holcomb, Stockton and, locally, Winnetka, Somanauk and Cedar Lake-the shattered towns, the towns whose very names echo tragedy too enormous to place in any context.

Saturday afternoon, as word lit through Palatine that seven people had been found murdered at the local Brown's Chicken & Pasta, many residents were too stunned and too baffled by the lack of details to register grief.

Mike Shwantz, 22, a grocery stock clerk, was playing hockey on a frozen pond near the crime scene as a news helicopter chattered overhead in the slate sky. "I'm just shocked," Shwantz said.

"We're trying to figure out why it happened," his friend, 19-year-old Jason Klein, added. "There had to be more to it than robbery. There had to be."

It sounded more like hope than prediction.

"This doesn't change how I feel about Palatine," said resident Debra Mueller outside the entrance to the local public library. "But it does change how I feel about society in general: You try to protect your kids, but you can't."

Mueller and others said that friends from across the country had been calling throughout the morning to talk about the dreadful reports from " Palatine, Illinois, near Chicago," that were heard nationwide on radio newscasts.

Nobody really knew what to say. A grim procession of gawkers caused long traffic delays on eastbound Northwest Highway as they inched past the roped-off crime scene to look at the restaurant and shake their heads.

"There's not much to say. It's crazy," said Kathleen Serotini, 23, one of several dozen residents who drove to the Eagle Plaza shopping center just to sit in a parking lot in a warm car on a frigid day and watch the banal aftermath of tragedy.

"I saw it on TV and said, `Oh my God, I have to get over there,' " said her friend, Karen Carr. The women had been sitting there more than three hours, they said, and seen nothing, heard nothing.

But there was nowhere else in town to be, really, on a day when a bitter north wind made the temperature feel far colder than the low 20s that registered on the bank signs. Palatine has no indoor malls where people gather and no central shopping district as such. Business has spidered out along major roads that then blend into neighboring towns without clear distinctions.

History has no choice now but to remember Palatine for this weekend massacre, but it should remember too that the village started quietly in the 1850s, when white settlers moved onto the open land that was still being farmed by residents a century later.

It was still a rural community of 2,000 residents until the mid-1940s, when returning World War II veterans moved out looking for affordable housing.

Eventually, dairy farms-such as the one Ken Kolze, 58, rented behind what is now the local Kmart-were paved over.

They were sold to make room for subdivisions and the families moving west from Chicago in search of a safe, quiet town. The population soared from slightly more than 4,000 in 1950 to more than 26,000 in 1970.

"I used to hunt rabbits and pheasants across the street from here," said Kolze on Saturday afternoon as he sat drinking coffee in a local restaurant on Northwest Highway, just blocks from Brown's Chicken.