How could this happen?

Tonight is special. I am not cooking . . . always a big deal in my book! It is Valentine's Day and while The Mister is not pegged around here as the hunter or gatherer of food, he is tonight scheduled to be the cooker of food. He is fixing his famous "shrimp-scampi-like-you-have-never-had-it-before" dish. I don't know or care what is in the mix. It is "to die for" and it comes my way about twice a year — birthday and Valentine's Day.

But this year, dampening my enthusiasm, the headline news on Valentine's Day is grim, to be sure. Amid the up-again, down-again, endorsed-again, bashed-again political candidate headlines, is news of another school shooting. Have we not yet had enough of this? Since Columbine or Jonesboro, have we heard anything new? No, the shootings still are with us. Troubled youngsters again.

This time the troubled youngster was in the town where I grew up. DeKalb, Ill., — where I guess my friends and I were troubled youngsters. Except I wonder how troubled I could have been . . . how troubled could any of us have been? We were poised to become the '60s generation, full of brash rebellion, about to do some things that would shake our parents' worlds to the core, but we didn't know it then. Looking back, we were about as wholesome as bran muffins and our lives in DeKalb were just that exciting. No one thought of shooting anyone.

I thought of DeKalb as a small Illinois town with a small university. I thought I knew almost everyone. People called me by name. I could go to Malone's, the local department store, and charge something to my parents' account by just signing a ticket. (Try that today in Newton or McPherson!)

There were between 300-400 students in my graduating class, but the school didn't seem so big. I think I knew all my classmates. When I look at my yearbook I don't see many strangers. Still, it felt like a small town. It seemed my parents always knew if I screwed up (and I sure as shootin' didn't tell them!) How could it not have been a small town?

My dad was a music professor at the university. My brother, sister, and I attended the "lab school" on the NIU campus. Back then colleges and universities hosted lab schools as a place to grow future teachers. They were in place for education majors to do student teaching, observing, and experimenting with new theories. I believe the building is now an administration building . . . it was the backdrop for many of the pictures in the news coverage last week because it is near Cole Hall. How could a shooting happen there?

Today's population for DeKalb is more than 40,000. On my trips back there I have been less and less familiar with the community. I know only my parents' neighbors and few of their friends. But it has been decades since I left. One expects change and I know the town has grown. I imagine few of the residents think of it as a small town any longer. On CNN this past week, it was noted that NIU is home to 25,000 students. Good grief.

Perhaps we can't go home again.

I grieve for the youngsters who died. We all do — what a waste. How deep the emptiness felt by their families and friends, how senseless the loss. There is no consolation.

For the university which, by all accounts, did all the right things but couldn't stop the killer? The luck of the draw; who could have known? Sometimes you do everything right and it still ends up wrong.

For my hometown, which will now be linked to Blacksburg, Va., Jonesboro, Ark., and Columbine High School, I am sorry beyond belief. For more than 100 years, DeKalb has been a good steward to generations of parents entrusting their youngsters to the community and its excellent university. What a sad day for all of us watching from afar, remembering the good years. How could it have happened there?

How, indeed, could it happen anywhere?