One mom’s harrowing account of the Northern Illinois University shooting on February 14, 2008 is enough to make all of us — mothers, especially — take pause.
“Mom, Mom, are you there?” the text message came through. “I’m at NIU and they have me in a lockdown. I need help!”Like the day Kennedy was shot, I’ll always remember where I was. I was doing a telephone interview for a newspaper story. I yelled to the interviewee, “I have to go. My daughter is at Northern Illinois University, and there’s been a shooting!” The words scratched like sandpaper on my tongue.Just minutes before, she had a “skip to my Lou” bounce in her step, as all young people should. Her mind was occupied with the Valentine’s Day dinner her fiancÃ© was planning for later that evening. That was before someone grabbed her by her coat sleeve and dragged her into a room.”We’re in a lockdown; you can’t go out there!” The words ping-ponged through her brain, as she curled under a protecting desk. Others in the room were crying and screaming. Fear of the unknown catapulted nerve endings into another dimension.I scrambled to get them information. Unlike the cowardly shooter, whose name I will not give print to, they coveted knowledge for a weapon, not a rifle. They needed to know that the gunman was not coming for them. They needed to know there was no such thing as the Boogeyman. The thought of my Allie cuddled by steel tables instead of my arms tempted my tears, but I had to stay strong. “Allie, get behind a file cabinet. Make a plan of action with the others. Grab whatever you can to defend yourself. Do whatever you have to do to survive.”These are words no mother should ever have to say to their child. Nor, should she ever hear her child say back, “Mom, if I don’t make it, tell everyone I love them.” The straw that broke the camel’s back — rushing to evacuate, on police orders, Allie stepped in some of a victim’s blood on the sidewalk. She Brillo-padded the Nike off her foot and hobbled shoeless to her car. As soon as she was physically off the campus grounds, lathered in pain, she called for us to pick her up.And then the vigils — from two to 2,000 gathered at different times. A hillside of crosses and memory boards… “We are Marshall,” became, “We are NIU.” The crackling echo of the college’s fight song, “Forward together, forward,” practiced, not preached. The mascot, a Huskie, laden with a teardrop.As I walked hand-and-hand with Allie through the campus filled with makeshift memorials, hoped resounded louder than any gunshots. It was heralded within the lines of messages left on handmade luminaries in front of Cole Hall. It smelled sweeter than the flowers placed on imitation graves. And as displayed stuffed animals shouldered ceramic angels, it danced in a choir of victory.While we were walking about, a lady with a canine crisis dog approached my daughter. She asked her if she wanted to pet the dog. Of course, she did. Turns out the crisis dog did just what he was meant to do — he gave a sense of love, comfort and compassion to my sore daughter. The canine even made Allison chuckle, something she has not been doing much of these last days. It was then I knew our resilient kids would be OK, one way or another.Read more:
Helping kids cope with tragedy