UH administrator agonizes over tragedy at former school
Deadly shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University hits home for UH dean
At the University of Hawaii, Christine Sorensen fielded a flood of messages and calls from friends at Northern Illinois University after a gunman opened fire yesterday, wounding 16 students and killing five.
The first e-mail arrived at about noon from a former colleague at NIU, where she had worked for nearly 12 years, including five years as dean of the College of Education.
"There's been a shooting at NIU, Cole Hall, geography class," the e-mail said. "We are all in lock down."
"My first thought was, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe this,'" said Sorensen, who left NIU in August to became the dean of the College of Education at UH-Manoa. "And also it's very close to the College of Education. It's right there."
By midafternoon Sorensen heard from nearly 10 people in DeKalb, Ill., where NIU is located, about 60 miles west of Chicago. They sent text messages, e-mails or called.
She got an e-mail from the College of Education chairman saying they were evacuating the building in the main part of campus and that the police were in the halls after the shootings and suicide.
Everyone was shocked. "They just wanted to make sure I knew what was happening," she said.
That included her 21-year-old son, who lives in DeKalb, population 40,000, but is not a student.
"He said he'd been trying to get through on his cell phone, but all the cell lines were impossible," she said. He got through long enough to tell her he was fine. Then they were cut off.
With 25,000 students, the school is Illinois' second-largest public university and serves primarily students from northern Illinois. Sorensen returned just this month from a visit there.
"It's a very good school, a very good place to be," she said.
However, only last year there were two threats that canceled classes during finals week, she said.
Despite the tragedy, she felt the community would find support in each other.
"They have people who care about what they do, who care about the students," she said. "There's a lot of good people there. I expect they will pull together."