Vigil doesn’t answer questions

In the wake of the murders at NIU, I have been listening to our local leaders as they help us process this tragedy. Thus, I was eager to attend Monday night’s candlelight vigil on the Quad, the second such event I’ve attended in as many years.

When the program ended, I huddled with friends in the Union to warm up and discuss what we’d heard. Chancellor Herman had validated our feelings of perplexity, and a local pastor gave expression to our prayers. But no one had really helped us make sense of the evil.

One University official actually took the podium and confidently assured us the tragedy at NIU is preventable at the University of Illinois because we have good systems in place for recognizing troubled persons.

“Wasn’t the shooter from the University of Illinois?” one friend remarked in disbelief afterwards.

“And doesn’t this imply NIU could have prevented the tragedy if they were better prepared, like us?” I thought to myself. I knew the official hadn’t meant it, but implications don’t always respect our intentions.

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Like you, I am grateful for the counseling services and commitment to safety on this campus. But our systems didn’t identify Steve Kazmierczak as a dangerous or violent criminal? Why should we hope they will next time?

And what about our deeper questions? Why did this happen? How should we feel about the killer? And what about the slain students and their families?

No one comes to a vigil on the Quad expecting a theodicy, but everyone comes aching to understand why evil like this happens. If we cannot answer (or even ask) that question publicly, perhaps it is better to have an assembly filled with silence and a closing moment for words, rather than an assembly filled with words that don’t answer to our emptiness.

Norman Hubbard