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Eyewitnesses describe the scene

Reported and compiled by Chronicle News Group staff through in-person and phone interviews Zack Seward and Shane Pope Students Zack Seward and Shane Pope were sitting near the back of the classroom when the gunman entered through a side door that entered onto the stage at the front of the room, they said. Pope, a 21-year-old junior studying finance, saw teaching assistant Joe Petersen duck, “but that was all I saw,” he said. As he ran from the building, he didn't know where to turn, Pope said. Some of the injured students ran to the nearby Neptune East residence hall and the Holmes Student Center, leaving a visible blood trail on the sidewalk. Pope said the shooter “came in the side stage door on the stage where the teacher was talking and unloaded with a shotgun right into the front row. Everybody put their heads down and ran out, and he just kept shooting. ... It was the scariest thing ever. It was right at 3:05 because I was thinking about cutting out of class early to go have a beer - I should have.” Seward, a 20-year-old sophomore studying business management, got a better look at the shooter from the back row. “He was a Caucasian, wearing a winter cap or a black hoodie,” he said. “It was just a regular-looking kid like us.” Seward began to cry as he said, “It was just a regular day of class.” - Dana Herra and Carrie Frillman

Dan O'Connor Dan O'Connor, a senior at NIU, thought he'd miss only a review session in his ocean science class, GEOL 104. The decision to skip class may have saved his life. “I go occasionally, and we have a test on Tuesday,” he said. “I thought it'd be a relaxed class, so I didn't go.” Instead, O'Connor was spared from the horror of being in the classroom as the shooting occurred. Not realizing it was his class that had been involved, O'Connor worried about his friends. He didn't know that it had happened at his class until his roommate, who was on campus at the time, told him that it was Cole Hall where the shooting occurred. O'Connor then realized how close he had come to being in that classroom. “When I found out it kind of freaked me out a bit,” he said. - Benjamin Steckler

Kyle Wattles “I was just sitting in my lecture, and a guy came in through the lecture hall stage door with a gun,” Kyle Wattles said. “I didn't really think anything of it when I first saw him. ... I just thought it was a joke thing. “He started shooting, and I just got down and ran out.” Wattles didn't grab his things. “I just ran out of there as fast as I could.” He heard two shots from the shotgun and didn't see any other weapons. Wattles described the gunman as “a skinny white guy” about 6 feet tall, wearing a black shirt and black coat, black beanie and dark pants, which were possibly cargo pants. “I had no idea (this would happen) ... it just seemed like a normal day, everything was fine until this happened,” he said. - Kate Weber

Kendall Thu One what-if kept running through Kendall Thu's mind when he heard of the shooting. What if it had been three hours earlier? Just hours before, Thu, an associate professor of anthropology at NIU, had been teaching a class in the same lecture hall where the shooting occurred. “If this person would have come three hours earlier,” he said. “I would have been facing the same prospect as the professor who was there.” The prospect of being in that position is one that left him shaken. “When you're standing up there lecturing, someone could sneak up beside you or behind you without you knowing it,” he said. Hearing of the shooting by e-mail, Thu said his department head told him the course's instructor had been wounded as he ran from the classroom. In a neighboring building, the instructor received first aid from a secretary. The situation is all too familiar to Thu. In 1991, while a graduate student at the University of Iowa, he was on campus when a student opened fire in the physics building, killing five people and himself. His experience there kept the possibility of a shooting in the back of his mind, but he said it's impossible to ever truly expect something so terrible to happen - even after a scrawled threat on a bathroom wall in a residence hall shut down NIU for a day a few months ago. “It's one thing to write graffiti on a bathroom wall,” he said. “It's another to stand up on a stage gunning people down.” - Benjamin Steckler

Mike Melby Mike Melby, 23, a senior at NIU and resident of St. Charles, was sitting in class in Watson Hall when word of the shooting started moving across campus. He said those in his class learned from other students moving across campus about what was happening. From there, the teachers corralled all the students back into their classrooms while they awaited instructions from authorities. A few minutes later, a message was posted on the NIU Web site from administration advising students of the situation and to await the “all clear” from authorities. But an hour later, that message still hadn't come, so students and teachers alike began to leave the classrooms and lecture halls in which they were huddled. At 4:15 p.m., Melby was wandering alone on campus near Annie Glidden Road and Lucinda Avenue, taking photos with his cell phone of the more than 20 ambulances and fire engines on the scene. He had not yet learned of the casualty toll. When informed of the possibility that more than three students were dead and almost 18 shot, Melby struggled to maintain his composure, fighting back tears. He said the lack of communication left him almost as shaken as the shooting itself. “The whole system seemed pretty ridiculous,” Melby said. “If we didn't have a computer in the classroom we would have never learned what was going on.” He said he felt like he was living in a bad dream. “It's just surreal,” Melby said. “I can't even fully comprehend this right now. “It feels like I should be waking up.” - Jonathan Bilyk

Phil Weckerle Freshman Phil Weckerle said he was walking back to his residence hall from class about 3:15 p.m. when he saw students running out of a dorm. “The second I got back to my dorm, people told me there was a shooting,” he said. “You never dream something like this is going to happen at your school.” Weckerle, 19, called home to Naperville to tell his parents he was OK. “I'm a little shook up, though,” he said. Weckerle said that while his dorm, Douglas Hall, was on lockdown, he watched news reports, hearing the number of injuries and fatalities grow with each update, not sure what to believe. Many rumors circulated among students in dorms, Weckerle said, adding he first heard the gunman was in custody, and then heard he was dead. - Kate Thayer

Molly English Molly English, 19, of Batavia was in her dorm when a fellow student said she heard a gunshot. “This is so scary,” said English, a freshman psychology major. “They are suggesting we stay in our dorm. They're patting everyone down and checking.” Her friend, Emmanuel Sullivan, 20, a sophomore chemistry major from Berkeley, had a 2 p.m. chemistry class Thursday in one of the lecture auditoriums at Cole Hall. But he overslept when taking a nap and missed both his class and the shooting. “I worked a shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the night before,” Sullivan said. He said he works as a security guard at another residence hall. “I went to an 8:30 a.m. class, but since my next class was not until 2 p.m., I figured I could take a nap and go to class,” Sullivan said. “But I overslept. I got up at 2:30 p.m.” Sullivan said he felt lucky to have missed his class and had trouble grasping the reality of what happened. “I don't even believe it to the fullest,” Sullivan said. “It's crazy.” - Brenda Schory

Sarah Duffy Sarah Duffy, a junior at NIU and resident of Dixon, was driving away from campus when she received the news through a cellular telephone text message from a friend. “I can't believe that happened at my school. You hear about it all over the country, but you never think it's going to happen to you,” Duffy said. She said she left her afternoon classes early Thursday, just minutes before the shooting began, because she wasn't feeling well. “I actually just left class early, and it's a good thing I did,” Duffy said. Duffy commutes to class and isn't certain how she will feel about returning to class when the schedule resumes. “It's real scary,” Duffy said. “I'm just glad I'm not there.” She passed by Cole Hall shortly before the shooting happened when the public relations class she had been in was let out early. Duffy had taken an exam at 9 a.m. Thursday in the same Cole Hall lecture room where the shootings occurred. “It's kinda creepy, you know, that I was in there the same day it happened,” Duffy said. - Sauk Valley Newspapers

Lisa O'Boyle Northern Illinois University sophomore Lisa O'Boyle, 20, was in DuSable Hall at a math recitation class when a student in that class received a text message saying that someone had been shot. “We all went to the window, and we could see people running out of Cole (Hall),” O'Boyle said during a phone interview Thursday. The teaching assistant “basically told us to go,” she said. “He was nervous as well. I think he ran to the math office. I'm not sure.” “We all ran out, basically,” said O'Boyle, who returned to her dorm. O'Boyle was interviewed by phone while she listened for news by scanner at a friend's dorm. “The dorms are on lockdown, and they're not letting people leave,” she said. “Everyone's really nervous.” - Melissa Puckett

George Gaynor NIU senior George Gaynor, 23, was in the ocean science class, GEOL 104, when the shooting occurred. Gaynor said the gunman, who wore a white knit hat, came through a stage door in the auditorium and began shooting into the crowd. The shooter appeared emotionless, Gaynor said. Gaynor heard one shot and left the classroom as soon as he could. - Eric Sumberg

Angie Seiner Angie Seiner, 24, a law student, said she was walking to her car from the law building when people ran at her, screaming, “Shooter! Shooter!” She grabbed them and told them to enter the law building with her. She told a class that there was a shooting, and they all ran to the law school's library and sat away from the windows. About 50 people were in the room, and some were crying, she said. At the time, nobody knew what was happening, but some people said they had heard gunshots, Seiner said. Everyone was trying to make phone calls but could not get through. They got a TV working and heard that multiple people had been shot. Seiner said the lockdown ended at about 4:20 p.m. - Daily Chronicle staff

Edward Lutz Edward Lutz was delivering copies of the Daily Chronicle when he saw students run in front of the law school and the library. He delivered the paper at both places, came back out and went to his next drop. “As I was going, (I) saw an officer running down in between Holmes Student Center and (the) library,” he said. There was an NIU police car parked there and flashing lights farther away, and a Northern Star reporter said an unconfirmed shooting had occurred, Lutz said. - Benji Feldheim

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