Northwestern University’s Students Demand Action, a group dedicated to fighting gun violence and advocating for gun safety, hosted a demonstration in response to the Wednesday night shooting just south of campus on Clark Street Beach.
Representatives from the group said the university’s response was slow and negligent with multiple attendees saying they heard about the shooting from group messages with fellow students rather than the university.
“Northwestern University’s utter failure to fulfill its basic responsibility leaves us all afraid, angry and clearly much less safe,” Students Demand Action member V. Matthew Steinbaum said.
“Last Wednesday, exactly one week before the shooting, we gathered at this exact spot and protested gun violence and demanded action from those in positions of power.”
Northwestern student Ani Kabillio was on the beach with friends when the shooting began. She ran from the beach and hid in a closet in a nearby building with friends for two hours.
“I called Northwestern security and the guy had no clue what was going on. It was probably around 8:10 p.m.,” Kabillio said. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve never heard gunshots before.”
Alexa Camilleri, a sophomore at Northwestern studying communications and political science, serves as Students Demand Action’s communications lead. Her family has been impacted by gun violence, a fact she said pushed her to join the group and get more involved in its mission. Camilleri was walking back to her dorm from a building near Clark Street Beach when shots were fired.
“I had no idea what was happening. I just saw a message in a Group Me of my class saying there were shots fired,” she said. “I heard nothing from the university whatsoever so I didn’t know if it was true or not.”
Things became even scarier for Camilleri when she learned that the shooters had traveled north from the beach in the direction of campus.
“My impression was that they were coming toward campus and targeting us,” she said.
A shelter in place order was given to students by the university at 8:42 p.m., over half an hour from when police arrived at the scene, according to a tweet from the university. Another tweet states the order was lifted at 9:57 p.m.
Evanston police released an update Thursday afternoon saying they believed the attack was not random and began as an altercation between two groups at the beach. 18-year-old Skokie resident Jacquis Irby died from multiple gunshot wounds. Two other teens were injured with one in critical condition and another with a bullet graze injury, according to police.
Northwestern University President Michael Schill emailed an update to students at 11:46 a.m. on Thursday, saying, “We have received messages from community members expressing frustration with the length of time it took for the University to inform the community of the shooting and to shelter in place. The first message went out roughly 30 minutes after shots were fired. We agree we should shorten that window.’
Schill also said that the university is meeting with members of its leadership team to go over the response and review safety measures and concerns from some about the inability to lock down all building on campus in an emergency.
Camilleri said that security measures need to be increased dramatically and buildings are too easily accessible.
“It should not have had to take a shooting by the edge of our campus for the school to start discussing updates to its safety and emergency response methods,” Students Demand Action member Lily Cohen said. “These conversations should have happened long ago and should continue to be had regularly to update our protocols to reflect the state of gun violence in our country.”
Dana Balwin — a member of Moms Demand Action, survivor of the Highland Park shooting and Northwestern graduate — spoke out at the demonstration saying that her generation didn’t do enough and she is proud to see new generations taking on the fight.
Steinbaum, a junior at Northwestern studying political science and vocal performance, said his generation is living through weekly traumatic experiences.
As a student in New Jersey, he remembers his school had a safety drill the same day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He also pointed out that about a year ago, Students Demand Action were at the same place on campus protesting after the Uvalde shooting.
“Now we’re coming back on a yearly, now weekly basis, and it’s just like this doesn’t stop,” he said. “Everyone around the country, this is just happening and happening and happening. It’s not stopping.”
The group had actually planned to meet at The Rock just beyond Northwestern’s arch to discuss their plans to demand the university divest from the gun industry but had to quickly pivot after Wednesday’s shooting.
“Now it’s a new generation being impacted,” Steinbaum said. “We’re just going to have generations of trauma and generations of fear. Just going into a classroom is not a sure fire sentence of living to the next day. You go into school and expect to go to school the next day and that’s not guaranteed anymore.”