Styf: Remembering the NIU shooting 10 years ago

Jon Styf
Jon Styf

I woke up to 10 missed calls.

My mother, my fiancée and work, work and more work.

This was before we texted so much or had the internet so readily available on smartphones.

And this was before family life and kids, so it was the afternoon, and I was napping before working my night shift in the sports department of what then was an afternoon paper in DeKalb.

So I turned on the TV and called work to see what was going on.

The voice on the other end was frantic, and I'm not really sure what it said.

All I know is that I didn't shower or get ready.

I put on a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and hoodie and ran out the door to get to Kishwaukee Hospital.

There had been a shooting at Northern Illinois University, and we had no idea how many were hurt.

One of our photographers was on campus at the time following NIU baseball player Jordin Hood, a Lake Zurich grad who had fought cancer, won and now was on the other side finding success on the field.

That story was held for a week while post-shooting photos – compelling work from the first journalist on the scene – were used around the globe.

I played a small part that day, as what I believe to be the first journalist on the scene reporting from nearby Kishwaukee Hospital, calling in updates and learning that I needed to get a lot better at news reporting.

I saw families arrive at the hospital, uncertain what was happening with their family members, and I saw helicopter after helicopter land and lift trauma patients off to other hospitals.

That was my viewpoint on Valentine's Day 10 years ago.

In the days and years that followed, we tried to cover and provide context to that story. It followed us, even as we left DeKalb.

I'll never forget a former colleague breaking the story of athletic director Jim Phillips accepting the same job at Northwestern the week after, a tough story to tell, but one we had to on a night meant for grieving during the first NIU athletic event after the shooting. Phillips didn't leave immediately, but he stayed at NIU to help the university through that process.

I'll never forget watching the DeKalb and Sycamore basketball teams play days later, either, and how both communities rallied behind a university that they hurt with.

I'll never forget, when I returned to Shaw Media in 2013, telling the story with former colleague Kate Schott, who coordinated the NIU shooting coverage that day, of how Esquire's investigative piece on the NIU shooter actually was made up. The writer was upset about it even years later.

I bring all of this up because everyone who was there that day, or connected to the NIU community, still is affected by it on some level.

Even if it's just the memories.

The shock. The fear. The anger.

That day inspired me to be better at my job, to learn how to tell news as well as sports stories, and to broaden my horizons because there's something a lot bigger out there.

This week, as I start my job in a return to the Northwest Herald – this time as editor – I remember that day 10 years ago.

I remember the person I was and think of the person I am.

And I remember those who were lost that day for no reason.

That's why we continue to tell the stories of people such as 2006 Dundee-Crown grad Ryanne Mace.

Not to sensationalize what happened or keep bringing up old wounds, but to learn from what happened and be better going forward.

Forward, Together Forward.

• Northwest Herald editor Jon Styf can be reached at or 815-526-4630.

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