At 6:30 a.m. on the couch with my mug, I’m mildly surprised to hear on the radio that any of the schools are open today.

Maybe I’m more than mildly surprised. Perhaps on some level I am deeply astonished at this and other news but I cannot touch it and be there for my son at the same time.

Preteen, he’s pretty self-contained. It’s hard to tell when and where it’ll come out. After 9/11 he and his friends played “suicider terrorist” daily on the jungle gym. And following a school lockdown last year when a knife-wielding teen gang-banger roamed the neighborhood, he asked for a cell phone and a Taser.

No dice, I told him. If you need more power we’ll put you back in karate.

He made a sign and taped it to his bedroom door: War Room. He gazes at guns in the Sportsman’s Guide catalogue. He knows every rank in every military branch plus police. He just wants to be ready. Youth mixes not with any sense of futility. At age 18 it’ll be gun first, tattoo second and tough ’round the clock. In his spare time he plans to study mechanical engineering.

Speaking of police and futility how about that NIU Police Chief Grady: big guy, straight back, the look of Ultimate Jarhead about him. He returned not so long ago from a gig teaching Iraqis how to police themselves. Ever the irony queen I can smell it but am too weary to reach.

A tad preoccupied I dodged the recycling bins on the way back from school and got hung up on the frozen slush rubble at the end of the driveway. Steve and Bill came over to help and we commiserated about the babies killing each other. A lot of people must be preoccupied this morning. Bill says he saw three in the ditch on his way home from work. Steve says his girl can’t believe there’s no good reason. We talked briefly about strategically placing oneself near fire extinguishers.

Between the three of us we cleared the slush rubble in no time and are ready for the next storm.

19 thoughts on “NIU”

  1. Good post. I am too sad to post under a pseudonym today. So many emotions and no where to put them all, I can’t count the number of times I have been in Cole.

    The anecdote about your son is very interesting. What kind of world are we living in? I just don’t know what to say or do anymore. On one hand we are capable of the most intricate beautiful creations and ideas and on the other, mass carnage, terror and sorrow.

    So now all that comes home, crushing all those beautiful things that pepper this city. This is what it feels like, I had an idea, but now I know.

    I walked down by Cole today, went to the press conference and still I am left with questions that may never be answered. My heart, like that of this wonderful community, has been ripped out, stomped on and stuffed back in. But I know we can bounce back, I know we can let the world know that DeKalb is a wonderful place, that Illinoisians aren’t all insane and that through our resilience we can be stronger and better than we were before. I hope that happens. Sending a weak, and sorrow filled smile to you, Dr. Gonzo.


  2. Well, at least here I know I can post without a word limit or some other piece of technology getting in the way. Technology is not important today.

    First, my heart goes out to all of the students and their families who were the victims of the ultimate selfish and heinous act of violence.

    Second, I do want to get the message out there that as far as I can tell, NIU did everything it could.

    I was in the lower level of the library, which is the first building across the creek and the parking lot from Cole Hall. Ironically, a group of us were interviewing a candidate for the next dean of the library. A student working for library security and a librarian came down and pulled out the business manager from the job interview. This was about 3:15 or so. She came back in and told us there had been a shooting, close the curtains, that all of us needed to go upstairs, and leave the lower levels. We reconvened in a room on the top floor, and proceeded with the job interview. A few minutes later, there was an order over the intercom that the library was closing and that everyone needed to leave out the front door. I had to go get my coat, etc. from my office and there was already an alert message waiting for me on voice mail and an e-mail message.

    As far as what I saw, everyone left calmly and orderly although a couple of students looked a little bewildered as to what was disrupting their study. We exited the front door with a phalanx of heavily armed city and state police and one really scary looking guy who looked like he just fell out of special forces the day before. I did not recognize what he wore, so maybe he was ATF??? How that many police officers arrived from all over the place to secure Cole Hall and the surrounding buildings within 15 minutes is beyond me, but thank God.

    There are three things I can think of that might help in the future:

    1. Equip all buildings with an intercom system. Not all of them have it. The library has it and those come in handy when the more frequent events such as tornado warnings come out. There were complaints about that years ago following a tornado warning but . . . see below.**

    2. If Cole Hall never reopens (at this point, who knows?), then there should not be large lecture halls anymore. My armchair ‘psychology’ guess is the gunman picked it because he could hurt the most people in one of the largest rooms on campus. To eliminate classrooms in Cole Hall would cost money because more professors would need to be hired to teach smaller classes rather than one big class.

    3. Get more research on why people do this and find ways to prevent people from doing it. Research costs money but it is high time that we find out why our young people are doing this. Yes, this means funding the soft social sciences and not necessarily funding the pharmaceutical industries. Already, the media is blaming the shooter for not taking his meds. But, kids were not doing this decades and decades ago before the development of many of the meds that are on the market now. Yes, this does mean funding the soft social sciences for research and finding out what changed from decades ago when there were not shootings like this and today. It seems as though there are more crazy people yet we have more medications, so there is a disjoint in there somewhere. Something else must be going on with our young people.

    4. There needs to be a faster reporting of people on meds so they are not able to buy weapons. The media did not say what meds the gunman was on but whatever it is, they seem to be blaming it. Well, anyone on a lot of psych meds should not be allowed to buy guns. Some laws need to be changed, probably at the federal level because of HIPPA. If someone is getting treated for some types of mental disorders, then he or she should not be allowed to buy guns. I think all gun owners should have to go through something like drivers’ education and pass test like before getting a drivers’ license before they should be allowed to own a gun.

    All of those things cost money.

    **Governor Blagojevich and President Bush, are you listening? You need to take the lead in funding higher education properly. That means working even harder to look at the full state and federal budgets and re-prioritizing projects.

    Of course, my opinions are my own, and not of my employer.

  3. One last message, and way more important than my ramblings:

    I received messages from a librarian at Virginia Tech. I know many students there are wearing red and black in a show of solidarity with NIU students.

  4. I didn’t make the vigil, unfortunately I had to work, how was it? I heard it was totally packed. I did make it to yesterday mornings press conference

    Also reflecting on some of Kay’s thoughts, adding my own. I don’t know if eliminating large lecture halls is the answer (as we know roaming from room to room – like at VT – is the alternative for killers like this). I think that preparation for this type of thing needs to become part of orientation.

    In addition, UNIV 101 can include material on how to react to a shooter or threat in a classroom. The more information we can give to people the better prepared they will be. There is no sense in pretending this doesn’t happen. We all need to be ready.

  5. They also need to add tornado drills at NIU and at Kish College. My cousin is a police officer at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. News reports indicated that the number of casualties were lower because the students there did drills and they knew what to do. Looking at signs, reading about it in a handbook, or thinking that NIU weather guy is going to predict them in time are not the same as doing drills. Trying to figure out where to go when one hits is too late. Also, this place blows those sirens so much because of the weather that many people ignore them. Well, those sirens do not get blown unless there is a good reason. We cannot wait to plan ahead. I think the chances of the area getting hit hard by a tornado are greater, and no one can wait until after one happens to do preparation.

    Students do not like large lecture halls, although they make it easier to sleep, text, or do other homework–this is an excuse to try to get rid of them. Universities like them because of the cost savings.

    I hope next year, in an act of defiance and strength to take back Valentine’s Day away from a selfish, cruel, and allegedly mentally disturbed person, that day can be remembered on the Second Thursday of February, not February 14th. How cruel is it to destroy a day that should be a happy one for students and the community. I do not think one act of the ultimate cruelty by a gunman should be allowed to destroy Valentine’s Day forever in this city. I will remember the event on the Second Thursday of February in 2009, not February 14th.

  6. OK, the mental health fitness for allowing gun ownership needs to be changed and fixed:

    That five years should be changed to at least ten years, if not twenty years. Sure, it will be possible for mentally ill people to get guns illegally if the restrictions become more strict but how ridiculous is it to let someone like that own guns legally? Sure, mentally ill people who do not get help and remain undiagnosed will still get guns. But, we should not have laws that are stupid. Laws are deterrents, not 100% prevention but that is just wrong to let someone with this kind of a mental health record be able to own a gun.

    Do a trade off with the gun lobby–make it more strict for those with mental problems to get a gun but require ownership training, and let the gun lobby make money off doing the training.

    OK, I oversimplified and I will let you folks poke holes into the opinion.

  7. Kay, thanks for bringing up the tornado drill idea, also something that is too often forgotten about and assumed that “it won’t happen here”.

    It’s going to be awfully hard not to remember it as Feb. 14th … :(

  8. I brought up the tornado thing for the obvious reason of Union University but also for two other reasons:

    1. During a fire alarm (not a real one, some repair person bumped something), an international student at NIU did not know what it was and stayed in the room where she was. Employees took off and did not bother to check the room to see if anyone was still in it. The international student is lucky it was not a real fire. Obviously, somebody needs to tell all of these students what to do, for routine emergencies. Unfortunately, fire alarms and tornado alarms go off at least three times each year. I think the residence halls have fire drills??

    2. I heard a rumor that the new Kish Hospital qualified for some governmental funding if they used population statistics from over ten years ago, before the population boom. I hope the rumor is not true, but it came from a reliable source. *If* the rumor is true, then the hospital’s capacity is prepared for the population from over ten years ago, not today’s. In other words, if there is a tornado, we are screwed. I believe that being complacent is asking for Murphy’s Law to happen.

  9. Well, any forms that were filled out for government funding should be public information, obtainable through a FOIA request. Where was the funding from? What agency? Any other details? It would be pretty easy to track the veracity of said rumor.

    If it’s true, that’s kind of disturbing. They did do a good job with the recent tragedy.

    I hope NIU offers students and citizens a chance to input on how the university should go forward, security-wise, and security-education-wise. A meeting with public comment would not be a bad idea, imo.

    Now that we have acknowledged this kind of horrible thing can happen, we should see the university make some adjustments, which it has done well in the past (post-Virginia Tech Massacre).

  10. I knew if I put something out there, calling it a ‘rumor’, I would hear back. :-)

    Here is the 411 on the new hospital:

    The emergency area is much larger than the old hospital. The new emergency area was able to do the triage on the students who came in and they did handle it very, very well. I was told the old hospital had six beds in the ER. The folks at the hospital deserve way more than just a pat on the back. The emergency personnel at NIU did coordinate with the hospital very well, too. The folks who raised the money to get a larger ER constructed deserve more than a pat on the back, too. What I heard was thank God the new hospital was finished and ready.

    The new hospital has private rooms. The old hospital had double rooms. That is the difference. Double rooms do make it more difficult for patients to sleep and get rest of their roommate has nurses, visitors, etc. coming in to visit. Private rooms do not have the disruptions.

    I also heard NIU did an excellent job with having press conferences every few hours and they kept the media informed.

    I went to the old hospital’s ER twice and spent one night in a double room. I could not sleep very well in the double room. I had a roommate and there were people checking on her and when there were not people checking on her, there were people checking on me. I probably would have gotten a lot more rest in a single room.

    Private rooms sound really, really, really good to me.

  11. One more thing, the rooms in the new hospital are supposed to have an improved configuration. I do remember wandering in the hallway of the old hospital because I had enough of the noise and I was ready to go home. It took me a while to find a nurse in the old hospital. That should not happen in the new hospital. I got up to find someone so I would not disturb the roommate. I guess if I felt good enough to get out of bed and go wander the hallway looking for a nurse, then I was ready to go home. ;-)

  12. In today’s ‘Chronicle,’ it mentions Auxiliary Kish Health System buildings in the area can have space if the the hospital overflows. The newspaper does not specify which buildings, just that extra space outside the hospital can hold patients.

  13. I’ve heard the ER is now nearly at capacity since Public Aid patients got kicked out of DeKalb Clinic and not everybody can travel to Sandwich or Ashton (Amboy?) for a primary care physician.

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