Last week's Valentine's Day shooting at Northern Illinois University (NIU) claimed six lives, including that of the shooter, a 27-year old graduate of the school who had reportedly stopped taking his medication. Before killing himself, Steven Kazmierczak shot 16 students including one Jewish undergrad and a teacher.
The tragedy at NIU was the second murder-suicide to occur on a U.S. college campus in less than a week. With no suicide note, no apparent motive and no link to the classroom in which Kazmierczak chose to carry out the vicious act, NIU's faculty, staff and student body is left struggling to make sense of the situation.
Shortly after word of the incident reached Hillel's International Center in Washington, D.C. a call was placed to NIU's Jewish student representative, Cary Wolovick. Shaken up, Wolovick reported that information was still changing, the death toll was rising, Hillel was opening its doors for a free student dinner and a local rabbi was en route.
Paul Saiger, executive director of the Hillels of Illinois, was immediately in touch with Avi Bass, a retired NIU faculty member and leader in the local Jewish community. Professor Bass continues to serve as the point of contact between university leadership and the surrounding Jewish community. Additionally, within a matter of hours, J-CERT (Jewish Community Emergency Response Team) offered its services to NIU'S Vice President of Student Affairs Brian O. Hemphill.
On Friday, nearly a dozen people turned out for a Shabbat service on campus which honored the five student victims, 20-year olds Daniel Parmenter, Catalina Garcia and Gayle Dubowski, 19-year old Ryanne Mace and 32-year old Julianna Gehant.
Wolovick issued a statement on behalf of NIU's Hillel Jewish Student Organization which explained that Hillel will be an active part of the grieving process as the campus moves forward. Wolovick also acknowledged the many organizations who have reached out to NIU's Jewish students.
Congregation Beth Shalom of DeKalb, The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Hillel: The Campus Foundation for Jewish Life, The Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, and other organizations such as Chabad at the University of Illinois, USD/Hagshama and Rabbi Kahn's Jewish Education Team have all wired their support. All these organizations have pledged to help if needed in any way shape or form, our grieving community move on from this unspeakable tragedy.
We will be working with Alpha Epsilon Pi and other organizations in the near future. We have also gotten calls from other Hillels including Eastern Michigan, University of Georgia, and Virginia Tech just to name a few.
I would encourage all of you to please to go to a shul or anywhere else you feel comfortable and say a prayer for the victims of this senseless tragedy and their families as well.
Stay safe and Forward TOGETHER Forward!
President, Hillel Jewish Student Organization
Northern Illinois University
NIU's campus remains closed until Monday, February 25.
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