"There were no red flags. He was an outstanding student. He was someone who was revered by the faculty and students alike," the Northern Illinois University police chief is saying of the 27-year-old grad student Stephen Kazmierczak, who yesterday walked into a packed geology class, swung open a guitar case full of guns and began shooting them at students before turning one of them on himself. The only motive thus far? He'd been on some meds, but he'd recently gone off them. What no one seems to be pointing out is that Kazmierczak wasn't a current student at the school, and so even if Northern Illinois hadn't responded to last year's Virginia Tech massacre by vigilantly following up on every scrawling of iffy graffiti, rooting out every aggressively antisocial kid, re=examining its "protocol" for handling armed suicidal maniacs, no one could very well get canned for this. Which is the sad thing about random, flourish-heavy never-saw-it-coming acts of violence: the resultant meaningless panicked scurrying around to make sure no one sues the school always manages to eclipse the glaringly obvious violence you could like totally see coming.
For every classroom full of kids stunned by their first sounds of real gunfire — "It was like little explosions," one student said — there's a classroom way fuller of kids in a neighborhood that looks like something straight out of The Wire, and a support group full of soldiers' wives who can't get the Army to keep their husbands from beating them, folks for whom those "little explosions" are just like your buzzing refrigerator or whatever the soundtrack to everynight life. I know, I know, boring, but why oh why doesn't anyone ever bother the connection, even rhetorically? That when you can't make sense of an act of violence, let it remind you of those you can make sense of?