There May Be No Why

You’re probably going to hear a lot about Stephen Kazmierczak in the coming days. He’s the gunman who opened fire in a Northern Illinois University lecture hall yesterday.

You’ll probably hear more about him than about the five students he killed and the fifteen he injured as investigators, reporters, and the public all try to figure out why. Why he armed himself with a shotgun and three handguns and mowed down innocent victims. Why he snapped. Why he decided other people had to die. We will dissect his motives, his actions, his medication, his upbringing, his environment, and yet we may very well walk away unsatisfied. There may be no why.

There wasn’t when Melissa died.

She was murdered May 5th, 1995.

Two weeks away from college graduation.

Melissa lived a couple blocks down from me growing up in Miami. She went to public school. I was in private. But we hung out on weekends, and she introduced me to her infinitely cooler group of friends. She was the kindest, gentlest, sweetest young woman you would ever know. She never passed judgment. She never made waves. She was just smart and pure and fun to be around. And she was a good friend.

Melissa and I drifted apart when we went away to college. In fact, I think we saw each other the summer after sophomore year for the last time. It just happens when you grow up. No particular reason. Just life getting in the way.

Then senior year, I got the news. And sadly, I found out too late. It was after the funeral. After the initial collective shock and grief. After I’d had the chance to pay my respects in person.

Not being able to say good-bye to Melissa has always bothered me. A lot. And I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to dig up as much information as I could about what happened to Melissa that night. From what I’ve been told, I know she was leaving a restaurant with a girlfriend, and they were ambushed as they approached the car. I know two men with guns shot Melissa point blank, ignoring her pleas to take whatever they wanted and just not hurt her. I know they threw her in the back of the car and drove to some secluded place. I know they did horrible things to her friend. I know they killed Melissa and left her friend for dead. I know Melissa didn’t go without pain. I know they left pain behind. Melissa’s father’s story is here.

And to this day, more than 12 years later, I think of Melissa whenever I hear a college kid’s been shot. Because I know what Melissa had to offer the world. That we’d all be better off having more Melissas.

I don’t mean to cast a shadow over your Friday, but in the wake of yesterday’s inexplicable horror at Northern Illinois University, it seemed appropriate to mention. It also gives me the opportunity to draw attention to The Melissa Institute though I’d rather there had never been a need – nor were ever a need again – for the institute at all.

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