Carolyn Packard

Northern Illinois University

I wrote this ten years ago on Feb. 15th, 2008. I think I’m sharing this because so many others are also remembering in their own ways. ——————–

It’s hard to think right now of what to say to express all of the emotions that ran high through me yesterday. At the time the shooting occurred, I was at work at the Art Museum in Altgeld Hall (that castle tower logo you’ve probably seen on the news, is the building I work in). I had been at work for an hour, when some students filtered into the gallery and were talking quietly amongst themselves. I wasn’t really paying much attention at first, until I heard a girl out in the hall say something about a shooting on campus and mentioned the Holmes Student Center. I immediately spoke to one of my co-workers and told her to go tell the director of the museum. Within seconds she returned and said “we need to start locking the gallery doors.” We did this, and the director ushered in the students that were out in the halls. I grabbed my coat and my laptop and belongings. We moved into the office and those doors were locked as well. There were about a dozen of us in the office, and frankly, …it was surreal.

I called my boyfriend, Blake, first to make sure that he was ok. After a couple of times, I was able to reach him, and he told me what little he knew. I then called my Dad. I was convinced that it had to have been on the news already. My dad answered the phone and all I said was “I’m just calling to tell you I’m ok.” My Dad didn’t know what was going on, and when I realized this I just said “Dad, there’s been a shooting on campus somewhere, I’m ok, I’m at work and we’re under lock-down.” My dad of course didn’t handle this very well. I was trying to be as calm as I could but when my Dad asked me if I was ok, my voice quivered and I didn’t answer for a few minutes. The hardest thing is to indulge in a sense of false security when you don’t have enough information to go by. My Dad said he’d call the DeKalb police to find out what was going on. By the time my Dad had called back, some of the gallery staff had accessed the NIU website. The message was cryptic and gave few details, and mainly said that they suspected a gunman was loose on campus. People were to remain where they were for as long as possible until the all clear was given. I hung up with my Dad and called Blake again. He informed me that the shooting was at Cole Hall and they thought that the gunman was in custody. Varying reports came in from the people in the gallery that were on their cellphones or near the radio or on the internet. Some people reported that the gunman was in custody, others said he was still on foot, and of course there was speculation that he had been killed by police. All we received was a brief description of what he looked like. “A 22 year old white male dressed in black and armed with a shotgun.” I tried calling my roommates Claire and Ying but I couldn’t get a hold of them. I left voice-mail messages asking if they were ok. I called any of my friends on campus that I could think of, during this time my inbox on my phone and my voicemail was filling up with calls and messages. My mom called and I remember looking out a window and seeing a helicopter hovering a ways off in the sky and saying “oh my God.” My Dad called back to ask for an update, and I couldn’t really provide one. He tried asking me questions about where I was at. Was there any place to hide? Were there any additional exits? What were the people doing? I was standing off a bit from everyone just talking quietly to my Dad. I remember feeling hot because I had my winter coat on but at the same time I didn’t want to take it off. At one point my Dad asked me if I wanted to pray and that’s when I lost it. I couldn’t keep myself contained and I barely whispered out a “yes” because my voice was choked up. My Dad prayed for me and all I could think at that point was that these could be the last words I could ever have with my father. I thought of my friends and the uncertainty I had from not knowing if they were ok. I will admit this, I was scared. We were in lock-down for an hour and a half and it was very emotional. I saw co-workers who couldn’t reach their husbands, boyfriends, family, friends, and the agony that they felt. The more informed we became the more bewildering it all seemed. Why did this happen? What was the motive of the shooter? Who was he? I felt helpless, thinking how nothing could really stop someone from getting into our side of the building. Needless to say, I think it was on everyone’s’ minds. One of the students that had visited the gallery, a guy named John, tried to talk to me. I could tell he was trying to talk as a way to keep the morale up, but I couldn’t respond to him with very much more than what my major was and what year in school I was. By the time that we were told we could leave it was about 4:20. We were told that the gunman was a suicide and that there were several wounded students. I don’t know what I said or if I said anything to my boss after hearing the news. I just grabbed my things and left along with the rest of the students. I called Blake as I walked down the hall and he said he’d meet me outside. As I walked outside I heard the sound of helicopters and looked up to see four helicopters buzzing around the perimeter. Everything felt surreal. I saw dozens of students walking down the street away from campus. Blake and his roommate Matt came and met me and we went back to their apartment. It was good to see that everyone so far was ok. We sat in the living room and watched the press conference on the news. It was then that there was an account of the casualties that were increasing. I called relatives and friends reassuring them I was ok. I was finally able to get news about one of my roommates and went back to my apartment to see if she was still there. She was shaken up pretty bad since she had been around the part of campus where the shooting happened. I was relieved to see her with my own eyes and to hear that likewise, our other roommate was safe. Both of my roommates left town to be with their families/loved ones. My Dad and step-mom came out to see Blake and I. We met them away from campus because the police had the main roads shut down. After everything that had happened, I stayed in DeKalb for the night with Blake. We were up long into the night talking and just being thankful to be with each other. This morning (Feb. 15th) I woke up early because I couldn’t sleep. While I watched the 9:30 press conference with Blake, I continued calling friends and hearing from them their own stories. I plan to visit them before school resumes and spend time with them. This afternoon Blake and I went back to my hometown to see my family. My sister Michelle came back from Western, and we were able to talk more than we had yesterday. Overall this has been stressful on everyone at the university and the families. I just hope from here on out that the university and students will be able to heal and support each other during this time. This still feels unreal. ——————————-