Emotional return to NIU

February 26, 2008 5:33:13 AM PST
Students returned to classes on the DeKalb campus for the first time since a deadly shooting on Valentine's Day. Cole Hall, the Northern Illinois University lecture room where five students were killed before the gunman shot himself, will remain closed the rest of the semester.

"You've got to move on," said Jonathan Brock, a 25-year-old Chicagoan studying industrial management. Brock signed a message board in honor of his slain classmates. Thousands of students returned Sunday for a memorial.

"It was something to do other than sit around and think about it," said Lee Scott, a 21-year-old from nearby Sycamore.

"I feel whether it was a week or three weeks, it's going to take time just to get back into normal," said Amanda Williams, student.

"I feel pretty comfortable being back. It's not like I'm scared to be back or anything," said Nelly Moreno, student

Counselors were at the NIU campus to help students cope with the loss.

"Today is about providing support for our student body, making sure our students are aware that services are available immediately on campus and meeting their needs, whatever they may be," said Dr. Micky Sharma, NIU.

The amount of class dedicated to discussing the shooting depended on how much students wanted to talk about it.

"There was like an opening discussion, if you wanted to share your stories, you could. Some people did. Some people started crying. I started crying. It's just an emotional time," said Melissa Evans, student.

However, many students turned down the chance to discuss the shooting rampage carried out by Steven Kazmierczak 11 days ago. Instead, they seemed relieved to talk about their studies- and get back to a normal class.

"Just to get it out of your head for a while," said 18-year-old freshman Amanda Serpico. No one in her biology class took the teacher up on an offer to talk to one the counselors stationed in classes around campus.

"It's definitely a little weird. Get kind of emotional, I thought I was ready yesterday. Hopefully when I get to class, everything will get better throughout the day," said Brandon Moore, senior.

Students instead expressed determination to get on with their lives.

"That's not going to define my college experience, one day out of the three years I've been here," said Dan Beno, a 20-year-old junior from Beach Park. But he knows the school will be linked to the shooting forever. "It's terrible to think, (but) it's going to be, 'Oh, that's the shooting school,"' Beno said.

"Something has been taken," said Kristi Bradford, a 19-year-old from Bloomington. "But something was given back. It made me grow up a little."

Early Monday morning, NIU President John Rogers noted the students "do need each other. They do want each other." Others agreed.

"This past week, I have seen despair and I have seen hope," Peters told those gathered. "I have seen deep sorrow of the five victims' families, but I have seen your courage and I have seen your strength."

"I used to not feel close to other college students. We were doing the same thing but we had nothing in common," Scott said after his sociology class. "Now I feel close to my classmates even though I don't even know who they are."

"Everything will be fine. I believe it. Especially from the memorial yesterday. It's like, OK, I can do this and together we'll move forward," said Anquiniece McDaniel.

About 25,000 students are enrolled in classes at NIU.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.