This photo, of a mourning student and her helpless friend, captures the agony of grief more powerfully than anything else I’ve seen today.
Five people were shot and killed at Northern Illinois University on Tuesday by a gunman, who then killed himself. It’s impossible to make real sense of such brutal violence, or to offer more than love and prayers to those involved; but these are the reports that helped me, at least, slowly understand what happened at NIU, roughly 55 miles west of here, and begin to empathize with those who lived through it:
Detailed, first-hand accounts of the shooting. The Chicago Tribune talked to several witnesses, who provide a horrifyingly precise account of what happened in that classroom:
The aisles leading to the exit were choked with a mad scramble. Some students fell to the floor and were stepped on, while others tried to hurdle the crush.
“I was prepared for one of the bullets to hit me in the back,” said junior Shane Pope, 21, who was sitting toward the back. “I was prepared for that to be my last moment.”
The surprisingly lucid voice of NIU student Desiree Smith has played across the nation; she told WGN about watching her lecturer get shot, and how she then dove underneath the seats and fled from the building while gunfire still echoed.
Where it happened. The Tribune recontructs the classroom where the shootings took place.
NIU’s emergency alert system essentially worked as designed. Messages went out through the university Web site, e-mail and phones throughout campus with 20 minutes of the attack, warning people to find safety. Further messages informed students that classes were cancelled; when the campus was finally safe; and to call their parents as soon as possible.
Still, NIU didn’t text people, and the Associated Press found that students alerted each other via calls and text messages even before the university could. NU’s emergency plan includes directly texting students.
Most vivid detail: After Virginia Tech, NIU prepared a message warning students of a possible gunman; it ended up being the first message they sent out.
Messages of support from NIU students, parents and alums. The university’s student paper has set up a place for people to leave their support.
The New York Times offers a timeline of recent campus shootings — Louisiana Tech, Delaware State, Virginia Tech.