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[Being written from my home near Rockford, IL]

I just got home from NIU, where I'm a journalism student, about 45 minutes ago. I attend classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I was in the building (Reavis) immediately across from Cole, where the shooting incident took place just a little after 3:00 [Central] today.

I'd like to share my experience briefly, and then allow this space to be one where we can send our thoughts and prayers to everyone whose lives have dramatically changed today by another base act of the type we've become all too familiar with over the past few years.

On Thursdays I have an especially long day on campus.

Spanish class beginning at 12:30, and then three journalism classes in a row with some time for dinner. I was rushing today; didn't have time for anything more than some fruit for breakfast.

Usually my Thursday ends at 8:40 pm. Today, however, classes ended just a few moments after 3pm when a shooter walked into the building next to mine and began shooting.

About 15 minutes earlier, my first journalism class of the day had ended (we got out early because our teacher was sick and let us out early); I'd stopped at the bathroom, and then bought a bottle of water from the vending machine and a ginger scone from a girl manning a campus group fundraising table.

She was so nice, saying, "Thank you, ma'am."

Ugh, I'm a nontraditional 42-year old student and I can't hide it from these kids. :o)

So, with an extra 30 minutes before my next class, I was feeling lucky. I had about 5 pages left of assigned reading to do, so I can finish that up.

I sat down right next to the doors in Reavis immediately across from Cole on the Northern end of the building. There was another girl immediately across from me, who was reading as well. It was a nice quiet spot. I'd just gotten myself comfortable, arranged my stuff and taken a bite from my tasty scone-for-a-good-cause when, about 5 minutes after 3pm, the first group of 4 or kids rushed in through the doors.

The first two were white as a ghost, out of breath and alarmed.

They each said just about the the same thing. "Somebody's shooting students in Cole. We just heard three shots." After that first wave of kids, another wave ran in, and I could see a lot of kids running outside. Other kids could be heard coming in from another set of doors that sit nearby the one I was sitting at -- now standing at. They said the same thing.

It became real. Something was definitely going on, easy to tell by just looking at everyone's faces that they weren't kidding. Kids were already on the phones calling 911 (my cell phone never worked -- so many calls were going out -- until about 1/2 home; thanks Verizon).

Immediately above us, after a small set of stairs, was the tiny English Undergraduate Dept. office. A girl ran up immediately to advise faculty of what was going on. We followed her up, and the ladies manning that office reacting quickly and calmly. Of course, they at first weren't sure what to believe.

How do you believe? You don't want to believe...

I told them that I was sitting by the door and heard two waves of students come in from two different doorways all saying the same thing: that they'd heard shots in Cole.

The faculty got us all to come in, and locked the office down. They made emergency calls and took real good care of us. There were probably about 20 or so of us in this little office, all tended to expertly by the English Dept. faculty ladies. They offered us water and chairs, rubbed our backs and said it would be OK. Stood guard by the door to make sure no one would come in. I was so impressed with them.

I was really impressed with the 20 of us, too.

The first 4 who had raced out of Cole and warned us were clearly the ones who were the most upset. They handled the uncertainty differently; one girl cried quite a bit, worried about her friend still in the building. Some of them had ran out so fast, they'd left their laptops and books and purses behind.

In the office immediately behind where I was standing was a wall of windows; I'd been a flight attendant for 15 years, and had gone through a lot of airplane incident emergency training. I immediately asked where our exits would be in case we needed to get out.

From these windows, we could see the campus police responding within minutes; it was actually breathtaking to see how quickly they were on the scene. Not much later the local police and emergency crews arrived.

I'm sure they saved lives by their quick response.

We had a clear window to the activity outside, so that gave us a little bit of comfort; but, none of us knew what was yet going on in Cole. Was the shooter still shooting? Had he moved to another building?

It was 3:30 by this time, I think; people making calls to check on friends, to call home. We all just looked at one another, kind of embracing everyone with our eyes, showering each other with that unspoken comfort: we're alive, and we're praying for the others.

At first, we heard that 2, then 4 had been shot.

Some of us cried when we heard that it was real. One of the overwhelming feelings I had was such sorrow that our campus and faculty and student body now had this to go through. That this somehow put a mark we don't want on our campus; that we're now one of that group.

Virginia Tech. Columbine. Far too many others.

From the window that I'd described, someone spoke up that they were carrying out someone on a gurney. It was a girl. They were working on her.  Some from our group went over to look, and then later a couple of them turned away, returning into our small room crying.

I didn't want to look. But heard that another person was being taken out.

One of the faculty went to the WGN News Radio website and got the stream to come in. That gave us some news while the campus was on lockdown. Time was moving slowly. We waited. I picked a fine time to forget to put my watch on today as I rushed out the door.

At some point, maybe around 4pm, we heard that the shooter was "contained" but that we were still not permitted to leave. Later a police officer said we were clear to leave the area.

Choppers were flying around. Reporters were on the scene. And the rest has become history. Black, dark, disturbing, depressing, aching history.

Praying hard, so hard for everyone.

-----------------------------------

[UPDATE 8:35 pm/Central]: Thank you for letting me share this quick diary with you, and for embracing it with all of your comments for me and for my classmates and the faculty at NIU.

My husband is out of town tonight with work and my best neighbor friends are dealing with their own struggles as the husband is in the hospital with congestive heart failure. And so, this has been a comforting, helpful place to turn to tonight. Thank you.

(I've been so busy with a full load of classes this semester, that I haven't had as much time to spend here at Daily Kos -- or anywhere else -- as I'd like, so thank you for being there for me when I really needed to talk a bit and 'connect' with people I care about.)

I've just realized I haven't had anything all day other than some fruit and a granola bar (from rushing out the door late this morning); I'm heading out to remedy that, but wanted to let you know how much I've appreciated your kindness tonight and know that everyone more directly affected than me in this tragedy are benefiting from your good vibes and thoughts.

Originally posted to Ilona's Ramblings on Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 04:33 PM PST.

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