Fate of NIU shooting site divides students, campus

By Nguyen Huy Vu

Yellow police tape and wooden barricades no longer block the entrance to Northern Illinois University’s Cole Hall, but students still avoid the brick building and its painful memories.

It remains empty since the Valentine’s Day shooting when a gunman burst into a lecture hall, killing five students and wounding 18 others before turning the gun on himself.

Whether students should ever return to the building is a question that continues to divide the campus.

University President John Peters initially wanted to tear down Cole Hall and build a memorial in its place. He suggested building a new hall elsewhere on campus, a $40 million plan endorsed by Illinois’ governor.

But the idea proved so unpopular, Peters backed away and appointed a committee to discuss the building’s fate.

Critics argue razing the site amounts to burying the past, along with the memory of the slain students. They want to honor the dead by continuing to use the building, either for classrooms or for some new purpose.

“There is a strong student movement to say, ‘Don’t tear it down,'” said the Rev. Marty Marks, a campus minister who has counseled hundreds of students, alumni and community members.

Others argue students should not have to face the tragedy on a daily basis.

“Even if they did renovate it, and the classroom was different, I couldn’t sit there and … know that six people lay there dying on that ground and be able to concentrate,” 22-year-old Kristen Highland of Algonquin, Ill., said after a recent forum.

Megan Plote, a 22-year-old public health major, wants to keep Cole Hall, but with some kind of memorial inside. However, she understands the impulse to demolish it.

Associated Press writer Tara Burghart contributed to this report