When you drive into DeKalb, Illinois, there is a large sign with a flying ear of corn on it—yes, corn with wings—proudly proclaiming “Home of DeKalb Corn.”
At least that’s how I remember it. I grew up a stone’s throw from the Northern Illinois Campus, and many of my friends went to school there. It’s where my mom obtained her teaching degree when I was a kid. (I still remember the little “Northern Illinois Huskies” T-shirt she bought for me.) I remember my friend Colleen’s dorm, the quiet campus (most of the students commuted from the surrounding suburbs of Chicago) with its lush green lawns, the restaurants and bars of a typical Midwestern college town. The recent school shooting there tears me up, as the other shootings have, but in a much more personal way: I was there, I know that place, the people of that town. All of a sudden, these surreal, scary massacres have become much more real to me. I think that’s been happening to a lot of us all over the country, as each shooting has taken place. If it keeps going this way, pretty soon we’ll all know the devastation first hand, and that’s not a goal to which I think anyone wants to aspire.
Especially as parents, we ask ourselves why this keeps happening, how we can keep our children safe. It makes it worse, I think, because the people killed were young, full of possibility and plans. I don’t have any answers to these questions I’m posing, and the questions don’t go away, because every few months, there’s another shooting somewhere else. It makes me wonder what level of violence we are willing to put up with in our society. It makes me wonder how this young man slipped through the cracks, where the system failed him, and why he felt the need to take other lives with him.
I don’t have any easy answers, because I don’t think there are any. All I know is that our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were killed, and with the Northern Illinois University community.