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Styf: Remembering the NIU shooting 10 years ago

I woke up to 10 missed calls.

My mother, my fianceé 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, where I was sports editor at the Daily Chronicle.

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 around NIU baseball player Jordin Hood, a Lake Zurich grad who had fought cancer, won and was now on the other side finding success on the field.

That story was held for a week while the 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 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 10 years ago.

In the days and years afterward, 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 University the week after, a tough story to tell but one we had to print on a night meant for grieving in the first NIU athletic event after the shooting. Phillips didn’t leave immediately but 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 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 was actually made up. The writer was upset about it even years later.

I bring all this up because everyone who was there that day, or connected to the NIU community, is still affected by that day 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 stories as well as sports 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 those we lost.

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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