NIU Struggles to Move Forward After Shooting as Classes Resume Monday
DEKALB, Ill. – The lecture hall where the shooting occurred is closed for the rest of the semester. Extra police and security guards will be on hand. Volunteer counselors will man each classroom, academic department and dormitory.
When classes resume Monday, Northern Illinois University will be transformed by the rampage in which five students and gunman Steve Kazmierczak were killed.
The slain have been laid to rest, but for the 25,000 students, the memory of what happened is still fresh, and the changes are everywhere.
"The campus to which the students and our faculty and our staff will be returning is one that may experience some continuing sense of nervousness and fear," NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said. "We recognize that."
Plans for a memorial for the victims are still in their infancy. Family and friends have buried Daniel Parmenter, Catalina Garcia, Gayle Dubowski, all 20; Ryanne Mace, 19; and Julianna Gehant, 32. Most of the 16 others who were wounded have gone home, though two were still hospitalized a week after the attack.
No decision has been made on the future of Cole Hall, where the killings took place. But student Kevin Wittier is glad it's shuttered for the time being.
"I would never take a class in that auditorium again," said Wittier, 22, from Crystal Lake. "It's kind of creepy. I couldn't imagine sitting in a seat where some girl got shot and died just taking notes."
At Virginia Tech, where gunman Seung-Hui Cho gunned down 32 people before killing himself, officials decided to turn the classroom space in Norris Hall into a peace center and an interactive learning space. Laboratories, which couldn't be relocated for fear of damaging expensive equipment, remain in use.
The head of Virginia Tech's engineering science and mechanics department, Ishwar Puri, said the first days back at the Blacksburg school were emotional.
"The classroom also became a place of discussion and place of healing," Puri said. "Some of the professors just broke down. And some of the students just broke down. But I think we had to go through that phase to become whole again."
At Northern Illinois, administrators are preparing for a similar situation. In addition to some 300 volunteer counselors, the student counseling center is extending its hours indefinitely and beefing up staffing.
In addition to reaching out to students particularly affected by the shooting, the school is focused on providing support for the weeks and months after classes reconvene, said Micky Sharma, director of NIU's counseling and student development center.
"Our goal is to really provide services for our entire community," Sharma said. "We want to make a statement about the community moving forward together."
Natalie Capetillo, a senior from Chicago, said she expects the return to class to be hard on teachers and students.
"I know that everybody will be on their toes, just looking around in their classroom to see if that person belongs in this classroom or did that person come in late?" said Capetillo, 25.
Jonathan C. Perry, a clinical psychologist and director of the University of Arkansas health center, has been leading training sessions for NIU faculty on helping students grieve.
"It's a tough way to become a strong community," he said. "But I'm very comfortable that in a few months, everyone here will look at each other and say we are a stronger community."