The Feb. 14 shooting attack in a classroom at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb that killed six people and injured 18 others sparked chaos on the campus.
A fast-spreading rumor, which later turned out to be false, led students to believe that the gunman had taken his rampage beyond the confines of a packed lecture hall.
To flee the area, an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 students climbed aboard 15 campus buses that were in service at the time of the shooting, shortly after 3 p.m. “The students were traumatized and just ran to our buses,” said Al Davis, general manager of the campus bus service, Huskie Bus Line, which is owned by Veolia Transportation.
Davis said the students were transported to a designated area at the edge of campus and kept aboard for two and a half hours. “I told them they had to stay on the buses with the doors closed,” he said. “Amazingly, no one complained. We had great cooperation.”
A few of the students, however, became “emotionally distraught,” Davis said, and were allowed to leave the bus. “The only thing we asked is that they had somewhere specific they wanted to go and that someone would be there to receive them,” he said. They were transported in a company van or Davis’ personal car.
Davis commended the 15 drivers of the buses, most of them students, for not leaving too early for the gathering place. “They filled all of their buses to maximum capacity before taking off,” he said. “I can’t imagine what was going through their minds, especially since the whereabouts of the gunman weren’t known at the time. They did an awesome job.”
Davis said the buses could not return to campus to pick up more students because police closed off traffic within minutes of the attack. “Our main goal was to make sure that our customers were safe, but also to be away from the action as much as possible so we weren’t in the way of the police,” he said. Once it was confirmed that the gunman had in fact taken his own life in the classroom where the attack took place, students were allowed to leave the buses.
Davis said the university did not communicate with Huskie Bus Lines in the minutes after the shooting. “They had their hands full,” he said. “They were expecting us to take care of ourselves, and we tried not to disappoint them.”
Davis said a meeting is scheduled with university staff to talk further about emergency preparedness. “Typically, we’re one of the first people who are called if they need to do some sort of an evacuation,” he said.