Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Little Too Close to Home

I have worked in higher education for over 25 years. It may not leave me the richest man in the world, but it has been a satifying career. Assisting students, both young and returning, in reaching their goals, finding meaning in their lives, and fulfilling professional dreams is a wonderful way to spend a lifetime. In a lot of ways, working in higher ed is like living in a genteel little society, one in which niceness, politeness, and unfortunately, political correctness, permeate everything both tangible and intangible.

The shootings at Northern Illinois University, however, remind us that sometimes our little protected worlds are not quite as safe as they might seem.

NIU is an average state university, stuck out in the cornfields in northern Illinois. It has a high percentage of Chicago-area students who like it for the the location -- about a quick one hour drive northwest of Chicago. It is certainly not the type of campus where you would expect to find several students murdered due to a lunatic's rampage.

I was at work and unaware of the shootings when my cell phone rang. I was surprised to hear the voice of an old online poker buddy, Shaggy (Travis), head honcho of K9 Poker . Travis couldn't remember where I worked and wanted to check and make sure that I was okay. I chuckled a bit since NIU is a good distance away from me. Still, it is nice to know that people are concerned about you.

While the whole incident is a tragedy and certainly disconcerting, the shootings took on a new perspective when I found out that the shooter, Steve Kazmierczak, lived just over three miles from my house. I go past his apartment complex on a regular basis when it is my day to car pool or when I stop at the grocery store on the way home from work.

I swear that I have seen the guy before. Was he a guy I let go in front of me at the local grocery store since he had only a few items? Was he a guy eating a chicken sandwich next to me at the local sandwich shop? The scary thing is, yes -- he could have been.

I grew up with a murderer and went to college with a serial murderer, so it is not like I haven't known that these people might be closer than you might expect. Still, it never helps you to sleep at night when you know that virtually anyone you run into could be capable of taking lives.


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