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updated: 10/26/2010 12:36 AM

NIU students wary, watchful around campus

Students on edge after disappearance; police briefing at 11 a.m.

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By Joel Ebert

Unsettled by the disappearance and possible murder of one of their own, Northern Illinois University students on campus Monday said they have changed their routines, and many no longer walk anywhere alone.

Many students wore memorial ribbons and wrote messages of support and remembrance for Antinette Keller, the freshman art student from Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville who was last seen Oct. 14.

At 11 a.m. today, DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen and DeKalb County State's Attorney John Farrell will hold a briefing at the DeKalb Municipal Building on what they now call a death investigation.

They are expected to update the investigation into Keller's disappearance and the human remains found in Prairie Park.

Students are planning to hold a vigil for Keller at MLK Commons Tuesday night.

Friends of Keller organized memorials and spread the word on Facebook over the weekend. Keller's friends wore yellow on Monday in her memory. "She liked sunflowers," said Nick Kettler, a freshman from Algonquin.

"We are coming together as friends of Toni's," said Matthew Schultz, a sophomore from Bloomington-Normal. "We move forward together."

Keller, of Plainfield, was last seen carrying a portfolio and camera and telling friends in Neptune Hall she was going to Prairie Park to work on an art project. Police have said some items that could be Keller's materials were found near the human remains in the park.

Lauren Gruenich, a senior from Schaumburg, said she and her friends bought pepper spray out of concern for their safety. The group of young women said they don't go to class alone these days or even out at night.

"It's hitting me harder than I thought," said Claire Bitto, a junior from Antioch. "I'm more of aware of my surroundings now."

"I used to feel a lot safer," said Zehra Hussain, a junior from Carol Stream. "But now with everything that's happened, I feel like I shouldn't even walk to class alone."

Issuing a campuswide e-mail on Saturday, the university has responded to Keller's death by increasing police presence, placing further limits on dormitory access, and extended the hours of its late night ride service, officials confirmed.

"We are providing everything to try to restore that feeling of security," said Joe King, a university spokesman. "We are doing our best to help our students."

Students have noticed security increases and have begun to follow the safety tips issued by the university, adjusting their daily routines. "I don't think the general feeling is, 'I don't feel safe,'" said Ben Paulson of Libertyville.

With 24,000 students currently enrolled, the DeKalb campus says it will maintain an extended police presence until the investigation is solved. Police have a hotline, (815) 753-4648, and are asking anyone who may have seen anything around the time of Keller's disappearance to call.

Amanda Wrobel, a freshman from Lake Zurich, picked up a memorial ribbon in the student center.

"It couldn't have happened to a nicer girl that didn't deserve it," said Wrobel.

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