Illinois State University held a vigil in Redbird Arena in support of Northern Illinois University. More than 1,000 students came to hear President Al Bowman and others speak about the tragedy and to offer support to NIU. Included below are comments read by President Bowman and photos taken at the event.

President Al Bowman

Good afternoon everyone—and thank you so much for coming today to show your support for the people of Northern Illinois University—and also to share time with each other.

It has been less than one year since the events at Virginia Tech shook all of us to the very core—a stark reminder that universities—while safe harbors for free-thought and opportunity—are not exempt from desperate acts of violence.

And now, an act of violence that hits very close to home—one that not only involves a university—but an Illinois university just a few hours from our doorstep—a university that enrolls and employs friends and family members.

This evening, we grieve for the dead and injured, we embrace and comfort our NIU friends, we provide whatever assistance is possible, and offer hope that everything will be okay when classes resume next week.  We worry for them outwardly—while inwardly—we are also concerned about our own safety and well-being.

What can we do to prevent such a calamity at Illinois State University?  Short of turning our campus into an armed fortress, it is impossible to completely eliminate the threat of violence.  To attempt to offer a totally risk-free experience would mean creating an environment that no longer represents anything that is good and right about a college campus.

We can, however, strengthen safety measures and improve security procedures, and that is what we are doing at Illinois State.  We already employ 23 full-time police officers that serve our campus 24 hours per day.  There are many college campuses that don’t have their own police force and must utilize the services of the town in which the school is located.  More than two-dozen emergency call boxes are installed throughout campus—direct links to University police from almost anywhere on our campus property.

We have the ability to quickly send warning messages to all student, faculty and staff members via e-mail addresses and the web page. We also have a paging system for classroom buildings and a public address system for residence halls.

Illinois State is also in the final stages of securing technology that can send emergency messages via cell-phone voice mails and texts.  This system has been tried on several college campuses with mixed results.  Often on those campuses, students, faculty and staff members have not signed up for the service in large numbers, or have not kept their cell-phone information current.  Our efforts will be accompanied by a sign-up/keep-up marketing campaign.

It is important to note that all of these measures share a common flaw—they are reactive—designed to be implemented during a crisis or after the trouble occurs.  At Illinois State, we continue to invest resources to prevent violent acts from happening in the first place by quickly and effectively identifying potential problems. Illinois State has excellent communication among faculty, staff members, counselors and police.  And in the past two years, the University has removed several individuals from campus that could have caused harm to themselves or others.

This is where you come in.  Please—never hesitate to report suspicious or troubling behavior to police—a teacher—advisor or counselor.  Keep in mind those common sense principles that keep us all safe—locking doors, traveling in groups and always being aware of your surroundings and the people you share them with.

Finally, as we work to make our campus safer, I welcome your input and ideas.  Such random acts of violence present long-term problems, which will require long-term and constantly evolving solutions.  We will meet that challenge as a community—and I will need and appreciate your help.

Thank you.