I was on a train in New York City when I received a frantic call from a writer at the Northern Star, the school newspaper at Northern Illinois University. The reporter told me there was a shooting at my school and that he was standing next to a girl covered in blood.
My worst fear had become a reality.
I sat on the Brooklyn train, shaking. Not merely in response to the horror of the shooting, but because I would have been there, in Cole Hall, in my geology class, had I not gone to visit a friend in New York.
Instantly my mind went back to December, when a threat, including racial slurs and referring to the Virginia tech shootings, was found on a bathroom stall at the University during final exams week. NIU was closed down for one day and all exams were postponed.
John G. Peters, the president of the university, said he did not believe that the gunman in this week's shooting, a former student identified as 27-year-old Stephen Kazmierczak, was connected to the incidents in December. According to reports, the shooter had not been taking his medication and was behaving erratically in the days leading up to the shooting that left five people dead and 16 people wounded.
But as I sat on the Brooklyn train in that moment, it was hard not to worry that the shootings were racially motivated. Incidents ranging from black students accusing the university police of racial profiling to slurs being yelled out of fraternity houses windows has lead to a tense environment, to say the least. As a sophomore, I've lost count of the number of times I've been referred to as a "nigger".
The tension brought the university to a halt when the treats were made.
Now, to learn about the shootings was too much to handle. The same classroom I attend class in everyday.
I called my classmates to see if anyone I knew was hurt. I found out that two friends and one co-worker were shot, one of which, Daniel Parmenter, 20, died. My heart went out the families of the victims.
As I head back to Chicago, I know that the university will never be the same. I can only hope that this tragedy forces us to confront all the persistent problems on campus, whether it deals with race, mental illness or any other problems that lead students to feel alienated.
Ryan Strong is a contributor to The Root.