NIU classes to resume for the first time since shooting rampage
“It’s not necessarily that we’re scared that there’s going to be someone with a gun,” said the 24-year-old from Elgin. “It’s the memories of what we saw.”
Classes were to begin Monday for the first time since the Feb. 14 shootings, in which former NIU graduate student Steve Kazmierczak opened fire on students – killing five and wounding 17 – before committing suicide.
On Sunday night, more than 12,000 people gathered in the school’s Convocation Center for a memorial remembering those who lost their lives.
In honor of the students killed, five bouquets of red and white flowers were placed on the stage. Outside the arena, school officials posted a large banner reading, “Forward, together forward.”
“This past week, I have seen despair and I have seen hope,” NIU President John G. Peters said. “I have seen deep sorrow of the five victims’ families, but I have seen your courage and I have seen your strength.”
Early in the hour-long service, a photo of each of the slain students was projected on screens around the arena as their names were read aloud. A choir sang the gospel hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
Several dignitaries spoke at the memorial, including U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who said he was speaking for the entire Illinois congressional delegation.
Illinois’ other senator – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama – sat on the stage watching the proceedings, but did not make any remarks. Afterward, he met quietly with the family of at least one of the victims.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich talked briefly about each victim: Daniel Parmenter, 20, remembered by an adviser as a “gentle giant”; Catalina Garcia, 20, who wanted to be a teacher; Gayle Dubowski, 20, a gifted musician; Ryanne Mace, 19, who wanted to be a counselor; and Julianna Gehant, 32, a military veteran.
“Now they are lost, but still loved. Their memory is a blessing – not just because of their spirit and intelligence, their love and their laughter, their curiosity and their friendship,” Blagojevich said. “Their memory is a blessing because it compels us all to search for meaning.”
There will be changes on campus as students return. Extra police and security will be on campus, and some 550 volunteer counselors will be available in each classroom, academic department and college dorm. The student counseling center also is extending its hours indefinitely.
The school asked faculty and staff to return last week to receive training in how to help students adjust to the changed atmosphere at NIU, which has an enrollment of about 25,000 students.
Plans for a permanent memorial for the victims are still in their infancy. The scene of the shooting, Cole Hall, will be closed for the rest of the semester.