Spring 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 2
The NIU shooting tragedy hits home
The Valentine’s Day shootings at Northern Illinois University cast a pall on the nation, as a gunman stepped from behind a curtain in Cole Hall, where many of the general education courses are taught, and terrorized a lecture hall full of students, killing five and injuring 17 before taking his own life. At least two Bradley alumni are pursuing post-graduate degrees at NIU, about 125 miles northeast of Peoria, and were on campus at the time of the shootings. Evan Bonnett ’05 and Laura Weaver ’03 share their stories.
Bonnett, a third-year law student, was in his 2:30 p.m. class at Swen Parson Hall, NIU’s law building, when a student rushed in and said, “Excuse me,” then told the class a shooting had occurred. Bonnett recalls, “Two of the students in my class had been in the military. They ran out and checked on it. They said it was true, and we all left the room. We went to our lockers, like we normally would have. Some people in the class left immediately. [The dean of the law school chose not to lock down the law building.] A friend and I were debating about whether to leave the building, and three or four of us decided to find out where the shooting happened before leaving the building. We went to the law library [located in the same building] and stayed there for an hour or so. They have wireless there so we were checking news sites and the school’s Web site.”
At one point, Bonnett looked out the window to see three deputies pull up, start putting on their armor and getting out assault rifles just as a family walked by pushing a stroller. “It was kind of surreal,” Bonnett remembers. He speculates the deputies knew the immediate threat was over so they didn’t say anything to the family. “That wasn’t communicated clearly to us, though, for awhile. When we heard from more sufficient news sources that the guy was down, we left.”
Bonnett and some other students decided to leave about 4:15 p.m., about an hour after the shootings occurred. They walked from the law building to the parking garage about a block and a half away. Instead of taking the usual route, though, where they would have been walking out in the open, they took a different path that allowed them to progress to the deck behind buildings. “A friend who had been an Army sergeant led my group. He would look around corners to make sure it was safe,” Bonnett says, whenever they approached an opening between buildings. At the parking deck, the group walked up a back staircase and walked with each other to their cars. “We were just thinking about different things than we normally would.”
Although classes were cancelled for the week following the shooting, Bonnett returned early to an empty campus for mock trial practice. However, except for the candles at the flagpole, the campus looked much as it does during the week when law classes have begun but the semester has not yet started for other students. Bonnett said he has seen pictures of memorials in the commons area of campus, but he went directly to the practice and back and did not walk around campus.
He was eager for classes to begin again and to see the rest of his friends. “It was good to see everybody in the right place again. I’m sure this is a lot harder for the undergrads. They are more likely to know the people directly involved.”
Weaver, who is pursuing an MSED in adult and higher education, was working in Barsema Hall, on the northeast edge of campus, as a graduate assistant in the office of the College of Business’ department of marketing when the professor she works for told her there had been a shooting in Cole Hall and that the building was on lockdown. “My first thoughts were, ‘A. Lockdown? What does that mean?’ and ‘B. What now?’”
She recalls, “I was awestruck. I went to the computer to look at the NIU Web site. Everyone was trying to call people to let them know what happened and to make sure they were OK.”
She comments, “The university did a really good job of getting information out as soon as possible. I have to credit the police, fire, and emergency people for keeping it contained. They were there immediately.”
Weaver adds, “We have an emergency guide that’s 10-12 pages with tiered sections with information on what to do in all sorts of circumstances. Every faculty, staff, and student got one, and on that day, we really utilized it. One person in each building was responsible for locking down the building properly, and not many questions were left. It was a useful tool with practical information. In the case of a shooting, we were to go into a room, lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the lights, get under a desk, and if possible, call university police. Our students were in classrooms with a faculty-staff person in each room,” says Weaver, noting the university was on lockdown for about an hour.
At first, Weaver didn’t think it was necessary to cancel classes for the entire week following the shootings, but as the week progressed, she was glad that decision had been made. “I felt like I was ready to get back early in the week, but by Wednesday or Thursday, it started to hit all over again. The university really had some foresight. They also used that week for faculty and staff to be back on campus and prepare. They set up counseling sessions to help us work through what happened and to help us help our students work through it. You think, ‘That could have been me. How do we move on from here?’ I can’t say enough about the Student Affairs people and about how the information was delivered. I personally saw what the dean of the College of Business has done.”
A memorial service was held Sunday, February 24, and because of anticipated high attendance, the university did simulcasts in several areas on campus. Weaver went to a private viewing within the College of Business. “We were all there to watch it together as a College of Business family. The service was about moving forward. The school has now adopted a motto of ‘Forward together, forward,’ and the Huskie fight song has been changed to have those words in it. All of the businesses in town have posters in the windows with black ribbons, a Huskie, and the new motto. The memorial service was more healing than sad. It really spoke to us about not letting this define us. We will prevail and at the same time, keep the victims in mind. I like what the governor said. He talked about what these students were studying — one was going to be a teacher, one was going to be a counselor, and so on. He told us to teach a child or reach out to someone, and that’s how we’ll keep these students in our hearts.”
On Monday, February 25, when classes resumed, Weaver said, “You can tell students are ready to move forward and get to what normal is going to be now. Counselors have been in every classroom all week to talk about services available and how to move through this. Students can pull counselors aside at any time to talk, or rooms are available for private, one-on-one sessions.”
To view an NIU campus map, visit niu.edu/visit/campus_map.html.
In fall 2007, Bradley University put a ForeWarn system in place in the case of a campus emergency. The University is prepared to implement text messaging, Web updates, email, and a new P.A. system to relay important information. In addition, people may call 309-677-4000 for information. Students, faculty, and staff may sign up to receive emergency messages at mybu.bradley.edu/MyBU. For emergency preparedness information, visit emergency.bradley.edu.
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