The Public Relations Strategist

“It Still Chokes Me Up” Responding to a Deadly Campus Shooting at Northern Illinois University: NIU’s Crisis Management Receives Best of Silver Anvil Award

Publication Date: 2009, Summer

Source: SO02 Public Relations Strategist
Product Code: 6K-030903
Organization/Author/Firm: Kyra Auffermann
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Just after 3 p.m. on Valentine’s Day 2008, an undergraduate Intro to Ocean Science class was coming to a close at Northern Illinois University’s Cole Hall when tragedy struck.

Armed with a shotgun, Steven Kazmierczak calmly stepped out from behind the curtain on the stage of the auditorium. The former NIU student opened fire on the students — and then fatally shot himself. He killed five students, including the graduate assistant who was presenting the lecture, and wounded 16 others. The events of this day in DeKalb, Ill. mark the fourth-deadliest university shooting in the United States.

Following the shooting, Melanie Magara, assistant vice president for public affairs at NIU, and her communications team faced the challenge of delivering news updates and offering support to a grieving community.

To this day, Magara tears up when discussing the strenuous task of meeting the challenges associated with the deadly rampage. However, NIU’s efficient and compassionate response earned national recognition, including the 2009 Best of Silver Anvil Award.