DeKalb’s Tragedy

Our thoughts are with Northern Illinois University

Last week’s killing spree at Northern Illinois University (NIU) that left five students dead and 16 wounded is shocking in its apparent randomness and bewildering in the myriad questions it leaves unanswered. Why did Steven Kazmierczak—a kind and intelligent former graduate student at NIU—open fire on a lecture hall full of undergraduate students? What could spur anyone to senseless killing? And perhaps most importantly, what could NIU have done—and what can any other university do—to prevent future tragedies like this one? In NIU’s time of mourning and questioning, our thoughts are with the university and the families and friends of those killed or wounded in the massacre.

Reassured by the Harvard’s opt-in emergency text-message alert system and the presence of Harvard police, it is easy to forget that every campus—including our own—is vulnerable to attack. Kazmierczak’s rampage was not a result of failing campus security at NIU. On the contrary, officers responded immediately to a call of shots fired on campus at 3 p.m. and by 3:07 p.m., the campus was on lockdown. Had Kazmierczak not killed himself at the scene of the attack, these security procedures—put in place after last April’s shooting at Virginia Tech—most likely would have prevented further killings.

But in spite of elaborate security measures, random and tragic acts of violence are impossible to prevent. In situations like this one, it is not productive to point fingers. Rather, we should acknowledge the losses experienced NIU and reflect on our own community in light of these events.

Kazmierczak was clearly a troubled person beneath a calm exterior. Although he did well in school and was polite to his professors and fellow students, he also had an enthusiasm for tatoos of grisly horror movie scenes and recently sought advice from his estranged godfather on purchasing firearms.

Kazmirczak struggled with depression, and stopped taking his medication three weeks prior to Thursday’s attacks. Although this cannot be causally linked to the attack, it is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored. Our best defense against random attacks like this one is to make sure that the mental health of the university community is a priority. Accessible and sufficient mental health resources are as crucial to a healthy campus as a sophisticated text-message alert system.

When it seems like there are no answers to a situation like this one, perhaps the best protection is to make sure we are all asking the right questions.