Students everywhere thinking of NIU
That was my first response to the news that a gunman opened fire on Northern Illinois University's campus yesterday.
My second was a panicked call to a dear friend who attends school there. Luckily, she was OK and off campus. She sounded worried about contacting her friends.
I can't imagine what she must've been going through. I can't imagine what any NIU students must be feeling.
But I know, even as a recent grad with a "real world" job, it's scary. What prevented the same thing from happening on campus here in Champaign-Urbana? And what's to prevent it from happening at Bradley, my alma mater, or any other college or high school around the country?
I've read news articles quoting students about the freedom of college campuses. People come and go. That's part of the deal: it's a time to make your own decisions and do what you wish.
Is that the reasons campuses seem to be a target?
What's the solution? The Chicago Tribune posted this story about how Thursday's events put NIU's carefully orchestrated alert system into use.
Other than that, what else can a campus do to keep its students safe? Even if someone noticed Stephen Kazmierczak on campus before he entered Cole Hall on Thursday, would they have stopped him? He was a former student; maybe he was just visiting.
Will campuses install metal detectors inside each building? Check ID cards? Require students to carry clear bags? While those precautions might work, it hardly seems like the right choice for an environment where students are supposed to mature into adults. But what else can be done?
I don't think anyone has those answers. But I know how deeply a school shooting can affect a college community. Last year, I was working at my weekly college newspaper when 33 people were killed on Virginia Tech's campus.
We ended up with a front page full of stories about the events: how our own alert system would work if needed, how our students were reacting to the tragedy. It seemed to affect everyone on our campus, even those without direct ties to Virginia Tech.
Now, practically next door, it seems to be hitting students hard. Many of my friends posted messages of hope, prayer and love on their Facebook profiles last night, to remember the NIU victims and encourage the rest.
And I guess that's all we can do at this point.