Remembering a Tragedy at Northern Illinois University

Students and staff reflect on the deadly shooting that took place at the school two years ago.

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Valentine's Day marks the two-year anniversary of the deadly shooting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, in which an NIU alumnus—a University of Illinois graduate student at the time—shot and killed five students in a packed lecture hall and wounded 18 others before turning the gun on himself. On Sunday, students and staff at the school will hold memorial services and a candlelight vigil and reception to remember and reflect upon the tragedy. But, in accordance with the university's mantra, they are also intent on moving forward.

"In order to move forward, you have to reflect back," says Brad Hoey, the director of the university relations department. "We've come a long way, but we still have a ways to go."

One person on campus who might struggle the most with the memories is Cindy Ditzler, the school's archive director. She is responsible for gathering and preserving all things NIU, which includes those related to the February 14 shooting. She maintains the "2-14 room," a room in the basement of the library that holds artifacts from the aftermath of the shooting, which range from synthetic flowers and stuffed animals to support banners and memorial panels that once stood in the commons. A digital version of the comments that have been written on the panels can be viewed at www.niu.edu/memorial.

"We keep these things so people realize history isn't always pleasant, and we need to learn from the history," says Ditzler.

NIU has also set up a memorial inside the Holmes Student Center where people can come to reflect and see various gifts, such as a quilt donated by Virginia Tech. The items—which include condolence letters from dignitaries and schoolchildren—were put on display so that people could remember the acts that have brought those on campus closer together, says Scott Peska, director of the office of support and advocacy.

On Sunday, five students will also be recognized as recipients of the Forward, Together Forward Scholarship, which was established last year with money from more than 1,600 donors to honor the five students who were killed. The $4,000 scholarships are awarded annually to continuing undergraduate students.

The shooting also holds special significance for school security experts; many commend the way the university handled the event from a communication standpoint. Within 20 minutes of the shooting, school officials were posting updates to the university website. "Their response is a model for what we'd hope both colleges and K–12 schools would institute in their emergency planning," says Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services.

A live webcast of Sunday's proceedings will be streamed online.