A look back at the NIU shooting last Feb. 14

On Feb. 14, 2008, college students across the country found themselves united in fear, sorrow and a sense we had lost control.

In Illinois, we felt the pain and helplessness even more deeply as news and images of the shooting on the Northern Illinois University campus spread.

On television screens and Web sites, we saw our friends, cousins, brothers, sisters. And reflected in their fear and grief, we saw ourselves.

A year later, those emotions have dulled for the majority of students on the University campus, and on most days, the violence and pain of that day seem distant memories.

Most days, we feel shielded from the danger of the real world. But every so often, small events like a rattling doorknob or a late arrival can trigger a sense of danger or the need to glance at the back of a lecture hall.

The problem, as always, is the practical difficulty of maintaining a safe campus environment.

University students have expressed concern that the shooting could have happened here – after all, Steven Kazmierczak, the NIU shooter, attended classes in our lecture halls and walked on our Quad.

And that nagging question returns: Is there really anything that can be done to prevent a similar tragedy from happening anywhere – including here at our university?

The answer, no less nagging, seems to be no. What we can do is develop a plan for the worst case scenario.

In that regard, we applaud the University’s efforts to keep us safe and informed. With multiple methods of emergency communication, a police force capable of handling the worst and continued suggestions or training for students, we can at least feel prepared.

The Northern Star, NIU’s student newspaper, selected the theme “NIU Defined” for their coverage for the one-year anniversary and asked readers to send in one word that described the university. Students, administrators and community members have repeatedly stressed this occasion is a time to honor the victims, but also to remember the sense of community and hope that developed in DeKalb following the tragedy.

We must undoubtedly move on, heads held high. But just once on Saturday, bow your head in memory of the students lost at NIU and the connection we felt to every member of their community last February 14.

Because tragedy or not, students at universities in our state and across our country are our cousins, our friends, our brothers and sisters, ourselves.