At 3:00 p.m. on February 14, I was sitting in the political-science graduate assistants’ office in DuSable Hall at Northern Illinois University. Ten of us were chatting, waiting for 3:30 classes.
At 3:10, my friend’s cell phone rang. “Joe just called,” she said after hanging up, her face ashen and her eyes wide. “He says there are people streaming out of Cole. He sounds scared.” She broke off. “If he’s messing with me, I’m going to kill him.”
DuSable is right behind Cole Hall, so several of us rushed to the windows. Moments later, the assistant chairman of the department rang the office. My friend Geoff answered. A few seconds into the conversation, he waved frantically for us to shut the door, then hung up: “We’re supposed to lock ourselves in here until they know what’s going on.” For the next hour, we waited. The news reports online were conflicting, and our cell phones were barely getting service.
There had been a gunman. One was dead. One was injured. Two were dead. By 3:20, the university had posted a notice online, warning that the shooter was still at large. A little later, news reports announced that he had killed himself. Finally, around 4:20, someone knocked on the office door. “Police,” barked a harsh...