February 14, 2008 was the darkest day in the history of Northern Illinois University. On that day we lost five students – young people whose lives stretched before them with untold promise. Twenty-one others were injured, some seriously. Their classmates in Cole Hall that day were shaken to their core and the entire campus was traumatized by an incomprehensible act of violence.
Our primary concern was for the victims and their families. We immediately assigned staff to work with those most directly affected by the event. This effort evolved into the Office of Support and Advocacy whose work continues to this day.
As we began to examine the events of that day and our response to those events, we were assisted by reports assembled for the NIU Board of Trustees, by the State of Illinois Campus Security Task Force, the U.S. Fire Administration and internal analyses from the Division of Student Affairs.
The investigative summary contained in these pages prepared by the NIU Department of Public Safety includes a timeline of events and a transcript of the radio traffic during the critical first hour following the initial report of a shooting.
As exhaustive as those reports were, a troubling question was left unaddressed: Why would a young man who had once been a successful student at NIU commit such a horrible crime? The sections on personal history and psychological evaluation explore that question, but many questions remain unanswered.
We realize this report brings neither comfort nor closure, but by sharing what we learned while dealing with this tragedy, we add information to the body of research on mass shootings that seem to increasingly plague our society.
While this report reminds us all of our darkest hour, it also demonstrates the power of a community pulling together in a time of tragedy. This collaborative spirit was evident in the swift action taken by the first responders. It was seen through the myriad ways agencies and universities from across the nation came to our aid. And it was most touchingly evident in the strength and courage our students, families, faculty, staff, alumni, and community shared with one another.
We will never forget February 14, 2008 and the terrible cost in human lives and bright futures. The NIU community continues to recover and it is our hope this report contributes to that healing process.
Forward, Together Forward
John G. Peters