02/15/2008

NIU shooting tests new security plan

By CARLA K. JOHNSON
The Associated Press
Related: N.J. police test their campus response
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Minutes after the shotgun blasts erupted in a science class at Northern Illinois University on Thursday, word of a gunman on campus spread just as fast as the fear.

Students phoned each other and sent text messages even before school officials could warn them, many said.


Watch: First person account from NIU
Drew Creal, a sophomore from St. Charles, was in a building next to Cole Hall when students around him began receiving text messages from other students that read, "There's shooting in Cole Hall" and "Get off campus," he said.

In disbelief, they ran to a window, only to see students running in terror from Cole Hall. As Creal ran downstairs, he saw an injured student carried in, bleeding from the leg.

Within 20 minutes of the shooting, officials posted a message on the school's Web site about a report of a possible gunman on campus and warning students to "get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all clear."

By 3:40 p.m. NIU officials canceled classes and closed the campus as part of a new security plan created after a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people last year.

"This is a tragedy, but from all indications we did everything we could when we found out," Peters said.

Kishwaukee Community Hospital's Web site also quickly provided updates on the number of injured arriving from the campus.

The response wasn't as effective as senior Christian Crum would have liked. He said he also got word of the shooting via student-to-student text messages. "But I never got a text message from the university," he said.

Crum got to his off-campus home by 3:20 p.m., and received a warning from the university on his computer e-mail about 50 minutes later — more than an hour after the shooting began, he said. He said the "received time" on e-mail was 4:11 p.m.

"The e-mail wouldn't have been that helpful," Crum said.

Michael Gentile, a media studies instructor who was meeting with students directly beneath the lecture hall when the shootings occurred, said his Internet service was down but he followed events through phone calls to a secretary in the building.

He doubts campus police or administration could have done more than they did to alert students and others on campus.

"Knowing that the campus, maybe it was within 20 minutes, was in lockdown," he said. "Information can only travel so fast. ... I think Northern's response was as good as any institution could be when somebody decides to shoot up a classroom."

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