Northern Illinois University vowed to move “Forward, Together Forward,” after the shooting five years ago today that left five students dead and 21 injured.
The university has done just that, building each year on that motto borrowed from its fight song. Yet today, and every Feb. 14, the NIU community will pause to remember the tragedy and the young lives lost.
At 3 p.m. today, NIU will host a memorial wreath laying in the Forward, Together Forward Memorial Garden and pay tribute to slain students Daniel Parmenter of Westchester, Ryanne Mace of Carpentersville, Julianna Gehant of Mendota, Gayle Dubowski of Carol Stream and Catalina Garcia of Cicero.
“That day is forever part of the fabric of Northern Illinois University,” school spokesman Paul Palian said. “The campus community, we're still healing, but we'll always keep those cherished five Huskies in our hearts.”
That mix of moving on yet remembering is evident everywhere, from the campus itself to the Orange Bowl. In 2009, a year after the shooting, a memorial was built next to Cole Hall, the scene of the violence. Last year, the building in the center of campus was remodeled and reopened.
Five Forward, Together Forward scholarships, funded by donors in the names of the shooting victims, are awarded each year. And at all NIU football games, fans hold up five fingers at the start of the fourth quarter, rather than the requisite four, in memory of the five students.
When NIU sent thousands of fans to watch its football team compete at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, “I felt such a sense of pride to see all of their hands in the air,” Palian said.
The sense of community which arose from the tragedy also persists at the school, and many credit NIU President John Peters for that. Since 2008, Peters, who will retire June 30, has been consulted by schools around the U.S. on how to respond to tragedies.
“He treated the university like a family that lost loved ones. That caring and compassion has persisted,” Palian said.
On Feb. 14, 2008, a gunman walked toward the podium of an Intro to Ocean Sciences class in Cole Hall and opened fire on the 120 students in the room before killing himself.
Afterward, a shocked and horrified campus community united to mourn. Support services were provided in several forms, many of which remain intact today. The school has taken steps to increase security, updating its emergency alert system and beefing up the campus police force.
Most students who were at NIU in 2008 have graduated or moved on.
The emotional (and in some case, physical) wounds still remain, but the passage of time has helped the healing process for many people.
“As time goes on, you start moving on. And you become stronger because of it,” said shooting survivor Harold Ng, who grew up in Mundelein but now lives in Florida.
Ng's head was grazed by a bullet, and even though his wound healed years ago, the emotional impact of what happened took him years to process. The experience is part of Ng's new, self-published e-book, “That's Just It.”
Ng praised the school for helping him with the healing process.
“Forward, Together Forward ... that was the whole point,” Ng said. “You're moving forward, but you can never forget.”
Years: Last year, building where shootings took place was remodeled, reopenedCopyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.