Saturday, February 16, 2008

An update

The past couple days have been strange and subdued, as if seen through a gauze.

I fell asleep around 9 p.m. Thursday night not knowing if any students were dead, and woke up early Friday to find out, in addition to the shooter, five were dead, and, for a few hours, until it was retracted, a sixth dead student. Two or three are still in critical condition.

Finding out about these deaths upon first awakening set the tone for the day. I arrived at DeKalb High School at 6:3o a.m. Shortly afterwards, my sister Carol called from Texas. She joked that when she heard the killer's major was sociology, she breathed a sigh of relief. That's how brother Ken and Carol are. It's a years-long schtick. I'm the villain. And while I'm mature enough, confident enough in my own non-villainy, despite past mistakes, to take such humor, this was too soon.

Of course, to my sister, this event is more abstract. As long as I'm all right, it doesn't really affect her. So I forgive her flub. No biggie. Ken made a similar joke when he called me later. My parents are on a two-week cruise in the South Pacific, but Dad called Esther using a satellite phone onboard the ship to find out if I am okay.

As this story unfolds, the search for a motive remains unclear. So much mystery surrounds Kazmierczak. No note. The "erratic behavior" his last days not specified. The only photo revealed, a University of Illinois identification mug shot; perfunctory smile, acne, prominent Adam's apple, a gawky young man. The eyes tell nothing.

NIU is mercifully spared the evil smirk of Virginia Tech's Cho Seung-Hui. Kazmierczak seemed to have no sense of a cult of personality. His anguish was more private, fueled by Red Bull, Gatorade, cigarettes, and two lonely days at the Travelodge on Lincoln Highway. Seung-Hui left behind videos and photographs. What, if anything, will investigators discover about Kazmierczak's motive?

The NIU killings seems more of a random act of nature, of chemicals gone haywire. This is how I'm dealing. I'm trying to fit this into a rational paradigm. Mental illness is a reality. The greater the population, the greater likelihood of disease. There was nothing anybody could have done.

Unlike VT, where the warning signs, post-mortem, stood out like billboards. When fellow students heard the shooter was Cho, no one was surprised. The VT shootings force us to analyze how our country identifies and treats mental illness. This was preventable. If only we had listened and seen the signs. That can't be said, so far, about the NIU shootings. I don't know yet what lesson can be learned from Thursday's events.

NIU students scattered across the suburbs in the wake of this tragedy. When we come together again, will the student body forge a bond that previously did not exist? I've seen so much love and community support these past two days. We'll see.

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