I became most connected to my hometown the day that tragedy united us. It was Valentine's Day and I was at work. It didn't seem to be so bad; at least I was around people.
I was bonded with the eighth graders, but there was a shortage with the sixth grade students, so I moved to that room for the day. I did not know the kids or the supervising teacher. While the teacher was sitting at her desk working on her computer, I was wandering from student to student to help during homework time. Math seemed to be the challenge of the day.
Another sixth grade teacher walked in and whispered to us, "turn on the radio, something bad is happening."
We turned on the radio just loud enough that we could hear it, but the students could not. There was news that there was gunfire heard at the NIU campus. We checked the website to see if there was more information. The alert confirmed our fears. "3:20 p.m. There has been a report of a possible gunman on campus. Get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all clear."
I had friends on campus so I tried to text them to see if they were okay, but nothing would go through. DeKalb had never experienced this volume of cell phone network usage.
With uneasy staff, the teachers decided to let the assistants go. As I left, I tried calling anyone that I could think of, but the calls would not make it through. I became dependent on the radio to find out more.
"The shooter is dead from self-inflicted gunshot."
"Students, call your parents when you have reached your residence halls."
The helicopters flying overhead competed with the sound of the radio. Some were media, and some were transporting the victims to the hospital.
When I got home I found my parents in a trance, glaring at the TV. As time passed, more details were shared, but the news never got any better. Five students were murdered. Each individual with their own story.
I did everything I could to reach closure. This kid came into my hometown, at my school, and killed people that had no affiliation with him. My community came together for candlelight vigils, services, and ribbon making. I don't think anyone had been so proud to be a Huskie.
A week later, it was time to return to school, and the feeling of safety did not return. I trekked across campus, passing the building where the lives were taken. I saw footprints in the snow and I remembered the images on the news of blood in the snow a week earlier. When I reached my building I was greeted with a man and woman. The man shook my hand. The warmth of his hand welcomed my cold bare hands. They offered me a bottle of water and asked how I was doing. All that week counselors came into our classes asking if we wanted to talk about what happened, but we never wanted to talk.
"Forward, Together Forward " were the words expressed so many times. Each Valentine's day I wear my ribbon. February 14th has no other meaning to me anymore. It should be a time to celebrate love, but how can one do that on such a date?