HomeNewsOne year after tragic shooting, university's bonds still strong

One year after tragic shooting, university’s bonds still strong

CHICAGO – Sherman Yau welcomes the chance to talk about how a suicidal gunman shot him at Northern Illinois University last Valentine’s Day. Sharing the experience, he says, has been essential to his healing.

It’s even part of his Facebook profile, which reads: “I got shot, but no big deal. … If you ever see me walking around, ask me for the full story.”

The junior from Naperville, Ill., tells a story of courage, as does the university. But a year after five students were killed and 21 injured in one of the nation’s worst campus massacres, NIU also finds itself significantly altered.

Demand for counseling has soared across campus, as many struggle with enduring pain. Kristie Bongiovanni, who once was academic adviser to the shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, suffers anger and sorrow every day.

At the same time, school spirit continues to rise. Students and alumni snap up anything with a Huskies logo _ T-shirts, pins, bumper stickers. The “Forward Together Forward” rallying cry remains highly visible.

And despite the rocky economy, nearly $1 million in private donations poured in for scholarships in the victims’ names.

Moving forward can be difficult. It doesn’t help that no changes have been made to Cole Hall, where Kazmierczak opened fire with a Remington shotgun and Glock 9 mm handgun before taking his own life. Millions of renovation dollars promised by the state have not materialized, and the windowless, brick building remains shuttered.

Nationally, NIU’s response to the massacre has become a case study in how colleges can best prepare for emergencies. After several reviews, the university made only slight tweaks to its campus-security and communication procedures. Its board of trustees made no policy changes.

“We kept looking for terrible things that happened that needed to be corrected, but we found none,” Cherilyn Murer, the board’s chair, said.

Some predictions never came true. The feared big exodus of students did not happen. Of 157 students who were in the geology class inexplicably targeted by Kazmierczak, only 19 did not return to campus this school year.

The university’s overall enrollment dropped by nearly 900 students, but the school insists that was mostly a result of the economy, and some other colleges in Illinois experienced similar dips. Freshmen applications actually went up for this school year and are arriving in similar numbers for 2009-10.

John Peters, NIU’s president, continues to draw praise for the caring and transparent way he handled the tragedy.

Since the shootings, NIU has hired private security for its dorms, introduced text messages as a way to communicate with the campus community, and trained professors to look out for signs of troubled students.

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