Special Commentary, # 16 ~ February 2008
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Special Commentary: The Northern Illinois University Shooting - Heartbreaking, Pure and Simple

February, 2008

- by Craig Wassel

I rode the train home on Valentine's Day as I do every day, and was feeling pretty good. I nearly finished my commentary for March in the hour long ride out from Chicago, and soon I would be in the door of my house and tackled by the happy faces of my three kids.

I got in my car, turned on the radio, and the day turned somber very quickly. The top news was of yet another school shooting, this time at Northern Illinois University. We should never think of any of these events as just "another" shooting, and this one certainly is not for me. It hits close to home not just because I live in Illinois; it goes way beyond that for me. It happened at my alma mater. It happened in DeKalb, Illinois, where I spent three of the most formative years of my life. It happened in Cole Hall, a lecture hall that I sat in dozens of times for classes and exams. As I drove home, I listened to the heartbreaking news conference.

That evening as I watched video roll from a hovering news helicopter above Cole Hall and Neptune West dormitory. I could almost see into the window of one of the dorm rooms I lived in, which is less than 300 feet from where the shooting occurred and five students lost their lives. I wondered about who lives in that room now, and how awful it must be hear that helipcopter hovering overhead in the night with its spotlights pointed on Cole Hall, and while enduring the emotion and reality of what has happened. Could that even be the room of one of the victims? Actually, I don't really want to know.

Another strange wave came over me as I saw more footage of a wounded student being gurnied out to an ambulance. In the background, there was a photojouralist on one knee with his lens on that victim. You might think I am about to comment on the dignity of a victim, but that is a discussion for another day. No, what I was thinking about is how more and more frequently news stories are coming at us about unspeakably violent acts like these. News agencies have to cover them, and that includes a photojournalist going and taking photos he or she wishes never had to be taken at all.

One of the places I feel most at home and happiest is behind the lens and pressing the shutter, but this I just don't think I could take. Suddenly, I was thanking my lucky stars that I was not that photographer.

In the wake of all this, the debates over about what should be done in this country to stop our young people from committing such acts are once again brought back to the forefront. With the NIU tragedy occurring in the middle of the presidential campaign season, the same strategies that have had limited or no success are soapboxed again. Tougher gun laws? They might have helped here, but don't count on them. A determined sociopathic would-be killer will find a way to get what is needed to carry out an attack.

The best answer is not new or tougher gun laws. The most effective answer is staring back at me when I look in the mirror.

This country has a couple of generations that have seen so much realistic blood and gore in movies and video games that - for them - blood and gore in real life is becoming "life immitating art". It's my job as a parent to raise kids who are not allowed to watch so much of what the entertainment world pumps out that they become de-sensitized to and comfortable with violence. It's my job to raise kids that do not see so much of it that they begin to think assault with deadly weapons is the way to resolve problems, silence others, or make a statement. It's my job to be a PARENT. It's MY job to get this right, and if I don't there isn't any law any elected official can invoke that can make up the difference.

There is a chance that you are reading this and do not even know me, but I am telling you here and now and with determination and seriousness, you CAN count on me to do my job.

Though you are reading this, I may not know you at all either. So I have to ask you to ask yourself: Can I count on you to do the same?

Peace, and be safe.

Craig --<>.

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In Memorium:

This space is typically used for a couple of recent, topical photographs and a pull quote.

In honor and memory of the students who lost their lives in Cole Hall, I am foregoing that in this commentary.

Instead, noted here are the loved and lost:

Daniel Parmenter, 20

Catalina Garcia, 20

Ryanne Mace, 19

Julianna Gehant,32

Gayle Dubowski, 20

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