I live in a town that experienced a college campus shooting. In 2008, five NIU students were killed, plus the gunman. I moved here from a city that experienced the trauma of Pan Am flight 103, carrying thirty five Syracuse University students home from a semester abroad, exploding over Lockerbie, Scotland. All two hundred and fifty nine people on board were killed and later news reports described people picking body parts up out of their backyards.

In the days that followed each incident, the cities grew eerily quiet. Businesses opened for operation, but clerks spoke in whispers. After the NIU shooting, I could stand at my back door and watch the helicopters circling above campus.  The screams of the witnesses and family members fade over those first few days and turn into mournful keening at funerals and memorial services, sounds I don’t always remember that humans are capable of making until I hear them again. And the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Last week, in the middle of a meeting with my board of directors, a board member checked her phone and said, “NIU received a bomb threat. Everyone’s being evacuated.”

The room felt suddenly airless and I turned to the board chair and said, “Please excuse me. I need to call home.”

I texted first, not sure (if she were someplace loud) that she’d hear it ring.

“Where r u?”

No answer.

Okay, forget that. I dialed. As the number connected, I remembered the waves of disbelief after the shooting in 2008, followed by the indescribable horror as the events pieced together to form the whole picture.  Were we heading down that path? Again? But wait—I thought lightning never struck twice. Could we have both a shooting AND a bombing? What would it take to survive THAT?

Everything at home was fine. My family and most of my friends employed by NIU were not on campus at the time, and the few who were, went home when the evacuation started.

Later news stories focused on multiple bomb threats on numerous campuses around IL. It was time to breathe. Perhaps it was simply the work of a distraught student entering midterms.  As the town of DeKalb took its first deep inhalation and classes resumed less than twenty four hours later, reports came out of both Texas and Arizona about campus shootings.  That inhalation suddenly didn’t feel as smooth.

In February, 2008, I attended the funeral service of one of the young women murdered during the NIU shooting. It was bitterly cold that day, single digit temps  (if that), and I stood elbow to elbow with other supporters to form a line across the front of the church to block the view of some demonstrators who had come to “celebrate” the ending of that student’s life. My nose and ears went numb. My fingertips, even inside gloves, burned. I lost feeling in my feet. On the walk back to my car, I hoped to a god I hadn’t believed in for a long time that I’d never have to do this again.

It won’t be that cold in either Arizona or Texas. But it might be as eerie. There might be those same sounds of parents and siblings and friends who have been cheated out of sharing a life. Maybe hearts will go numb and tears will freeze up on the inside due to this wave of destruction we can’t seem to get our hands around.

Driving back into DeKalb on the night of the bomb threat, I crested the hill on Peace Rd that is the overpass of the railroad tracks. From that spot, I could see the Holmes Student Center on campus clearly. I was looking, although I didn’t realize it at first, for the helicopters again.  The sky was clear. I dropped down the other side of the incline and continued toward home.

As I turned into my neighborhood, I thought about a book I read some twenty plus years ago on animal testing and animal rights. It may have been Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. The concept that jumped out at me was the experiment that he describes wherein if you place dogs in small, confined areas so that they cannot move, nor can they escape, and then you repeatedly shock them with electrical shocks (through their feet if I remember correctly), they will eventually give up hope that the shocks will stop and lie down and just let you continue to shock them.

Airplanes full of people carrying university students home to their families being blown out of the sky…Campus after campus of school shootings… Bomb threats that close high schools and college campuses…So far,  it appears that we cannot move out of the way. Nor can we escape this, as there doesn’t seem to be a way to predict where the next “this” is going to occur. Should we worry that all of this amounts to us constantly being shocked through our feet and that eventually, we’re all just going to lie down and let the shocks continue?

I will repeat what I said in a post a few weeks ago. Lead with your light, friends. I think it may be the only way to deal with being zapped through our feet.


  1. susan francis says:

    Amen my friend.

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