Daily Herald
NIU students go back to school, reflect on tragedy
By Lenore T. Adkins | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 8/26/2008 12:06 AM

DEKALB - Everyone here knows exactly where they were on Valentine's Day when a lone gunman shot and killed five students in a Northern Illinois University lecture hall before turning the gun on himself.

But on Monday, the tragedy was the last thing on many people's minds. Instead, it was back to class. And, on the surface anyway, everything appeared normal.

"Everyone is walking around smiling again," said Ryan Jones, of Rockford, a junior majoring in sociology.

Counselors were made available to students on an as-needed basis, the way it was before the shootings occurred, said Micky Sharma, director of counseling and of the student development center. Healing Huskies, a counseling group formed for those who still need to discuss the events, is also available.

As students gabbed on cell phones, sipped coffee and caught up with each other, Cole Hall, the site of the shootings, barely registered a glance.

One student even fixed her hair in the reflection of one of the building's windows.

Yet many are still grappling with the horrific events and continue healing in their own way.

"When it happened, it was something that was seen as a tragedy and it kind of held people back, where now people acknowledge it for what it was ... and use it as a steppingstone to move on," said Bianca Brown, a sophomore who was at basketball practice when the shots rang out at Cole Hall.

Today's freshmen weren't on campus to experience the outpouring of emotion and support that came after. So they enter the school on a clean slate.

"It feels like a regular day, pretty much," said freshman Racquel Cribas, 18, a communications major from Lombard.

Cole Hall now has flowers laced around its door handles and messages such as "God bless you" and "Jesus loves you" written on a sidewalk nearby. "Forward Together Forward" signs remain in the building's windows.

The building will be renovated, but future academic use is not planned for the room in which the shootings took place, said university Spokesman Joe King. The entire building remains closed this school year.

Jones recalls being just outside Cole Hall Feb. 14 when he saw people flee from the building and a student bleeding from his head.

Although that memory isn't as fresh, it still lingers.

"I'll never forget, but it's not in the back of my mind anymore," Jones said. "Just when I see Cole Hall."