Friday, February 15, 2008

Northern Illinois University


I like the word bucolic.

DeKalb is sixty miles west of Chicago in northern Illinois. It’s the home of barbed wire and its high school teams are called the barbs. Back in the late 1800’s some political deals were struck that led to Northern Illinois University (it’s current name) being located in DeKalb.

DeKalb is often described as bucolic, as some sort of rural wonderland that exists for the dreams of harried city folk just one commute away from insanity. Certainly, from that perspective, it’s a quiet place. A good housing market exists in DeKalb, with a broad range of offerings from single-family to condominiums to apartments. There are parks, golf courses, a decent regional theater, and even a small general aviation airport. Commuter train access to Chicago is only ten miles away. The population is said to be about 40,000, but there has always been debate over whether or not those figures include the university students.

I graduated from NIU and was born in DeKalb so I know the whole scene well. Parts of the campus, as has been reported (a bit snidely), really are located in what used to be cornfields. You can, as well, stand outside the new Convocation Center on the western edge of campus and see all the way to Des Moines or Laramie or San Francisco.

Like so many small cities, DeKalb is struggling to refurbish its downtown so as to compete with the five-mile “strip” of shopping malls that ties it to its sister city, Sycamore (where I live). One of the more permanent additions to the downtown seems to be the gathering every Friday night at First Street and Lincoln Highway of a peace group protesting the Iraq war. They are on the northeast corner, while on the southeast corner is a rival Support the Troops group. The two groups are said to be pretty friendly since they all get “the finger” or catcalls from their respective naysayers.

Truthfully, this is all prelude to a not very complicated story. A lone shooter walked into a lecture hall at NIU with a shotgun and two pistols and began firing. Before he was done five students were dead and twenty-two were injured.

Perhaps the shooter was insane. Perhaps he wasn’t. We’ll never know, of course, since he killed himself when his shooting rampage was over.

DeKalb is still bucolic, though maybe less so than it was the day before now that it has matured onto the international news wires and is massively represented on Facebook and YouTube and MySpace.

Everyone is supposed to wear red today. That may be appropriate since there was blood in and all around the lecture hall. Actually, NIU’s colors are red and black so the red is intended as a gesture of honor and sympathy.

You could call it the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre except that historians have already appropriated that one. Maybe it’s better just to call it a very, very bad day.

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