NIU athletic department implemented crisis plan after Va. Tech shootings

Updated: February 17, 2008, 12:15 AM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

After the Virginia Tech shootings in April, the Northern Illinois athletic department upgraded its emergency crisis plan, just in case.

"You hope you never have to use it," athletic director Jim Phillips said.

Tragically, the plan was put into action Thursday afternoon after a 27-year-old man walked into Cole Hall and opened fire at 3:07 p.m., killing five students before taking his own life at the school's DeKalb., Ill., campus.

No student-athletes were among the dead or wounded.

Drew Jeskey, a midfielder on the Huskies soccer team, was in the lecture hall during the shooting but escaped. Tim Mayerbock, an offensive guard on the school's football team, was just outside Cole Hall at the time of the shooting and helped a wounded student.

"The student got hit with some pellets off of one of the shotgun shells, was not in critical condition but was certainly injured," Phillips told ESPN.com on Friday night. "Tim and his friend helped the kid to safety and also took him to the hospital. He really jumped in at a horrific moment."

The tragedy hit especially close for Phillips, who received a message from his wife late Thursday night that their niece was in the lecture hall but didn't attend because she was sick.

"Our hearts are broken, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," Phillips said. "But we will not be deterred. We're going to get stronger from this event."

Phillips was in a meeting at the athletic department offices Thursday afternoon when university president John Peters called to inform him of the shooting. Department staff members immediately contacted the school's 17 varsity head coaches, who started the process of accounting for all of their athletes.

Phillips went to inform the women's basketball team, which was practicing at the Convocation Center when the shootings occurred. He also had NIU's academic advisor check if any athletes were attending the geology class. They found out several hours after the shooting that Jeskey was safe.

"I'm very proud of our staff and our coaches," Phillips said. "We were able to get a hold of all of our kids through text messaging, e-mails, phone calls, voicemails, cell phones, on-campus phones. I pray that we never have to go through this horrific tragedy ever again."

After an emergency meeting with the school's administration, Phillips cancelled all athletic activities scheduled for the weekend. Athletes were given the option to go home, and counselors were provided for those who remained on campus.

NIU President John Peters said Saturday that sporting events will be canceled through Sunday, Feb. 24th. That's the same day a memorial service is being planned on campus.

"It's still a little bit premature," Phillips said, referring to specifics on a tribute. "We're certainly going to do something. To what extent, we haven't made any final decisions."

Phillips spent much of Thursday night with Peters and other school officials at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, where 18 gunshot victims were transported. Around 10:30 p.m., he spoke with Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver.

"He was absolutely wonderful," Phillips said. "I just tried to seek his guidance and counsel to make sure we were making the proper decisions. He felt like we were doing a very good job. That was reaffirming."

Adam Rittenberg covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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