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updated: 2/9/2018 9:50 PM

Vigil 10 years after shooting: 'We will never forget. We are NIU.'

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  • Video: 'A unique journey' at NIU

  • Five torches burn on stage as Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman speaks Friday at a vigil for the people killed and injured in the mass shooting at the DeKalb school 10 years ago. Five students were killed and 21 others injured.

      Five torches burn on stage as Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman speaks Friday at a vigil for the people killed and injured in the mass shooting at the DeKalb school 10 years ago. Five students were killed and 21 others injured.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Shadows stretch from torches on stage as people mingle Friday at a vigil for those killed and injured in the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University 10 years ago.

      Shadows stretch from torches on stage as people mingle Friday at a vigil for those killed and injured in the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University 10 years ago.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • NIU junior Ben Campbell of Vernon Hills and his friend Kara Smith, a sophomore from Peotone, stand Friday at a candlelight vigil for the people killed and injured in the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University 10 years ago.

      NIU junior Ben Campbell of Vernon Hills and his friend Kara Smith, a sophomore from Peotone, stand Friday at a candlelight vigil for the people killed and injured in the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University 10 years ago.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Several family members of victims were at a vigil Friday for the people killed and injured in the mass shooting at the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb 10 years ago.

      Several family members of victims were at a vigil Friday for the people killed and injured in the mass shooting at the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb 10 years ago.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Time can play tricks after tragedies.

It passes too slowly for those experiencing pain, like the families of the five Northern Illinois University students killed Feb. 14, 2008, during a shooting in a lecture hall.

It passes too quickly for those observing from afar, who suddenly realize a decade has vanished since the violence that united the DeKalb campus under the motto "Forward, Together Forward" and prompted changes to the way threats are assessed on college campuses.

Lisa C. Freeman, NIU president, and Kelly Wesener Michael, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, led the community in a candlelight vigil Friday evening to commemorate the lives lost, to celebrate the strength in responding to the tragedy and to light a path, "Forward, Together Forward."

The vigil took place in the Holmes Student Center, not far from the Peaceful Reflection Garden where the names of the slain students are inscribed on a red granite wall: Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace, Daniel Parmenter.

On a stage inside the student center ballroom stood five torches, each representing a fallen student. From each torch, a smaller candle was lit to spread the flame among the crowd of more than 150.

"Ten years after the loss of five wonderful people, we continue to take inspiration from the stories of their lives and the strength of their characters," Freeman said. "A decade after a senseless act, we think of those who still bear the scars of injury, to body, mind and spirit. Ten years later, we continue to be warmed by the embrace of our larger community."

The vigil on a snowy day brought to mind a cold Valentine's Day in 2008, when Steven Kazmierczak of Elk Grove Village came into a lecture room in Cole Hall just after 3 p.m. and started shooting.

Before he stopped, the 2006 NIU graduate with a history of mental health diagnoses fatally shot the five students remembered Friday, wounded 21 others and killed himself.

Wesener Michael, who was executive director for housing and dining at the time, said she remembers the crisis response team coming together to address the tragedy in the immediate aftermath. Soon, others in DeKalb and neighboring Sycamore and Genoa joined in what became an ongoing, highly personal healing process.

The healing continues as NIU works to protect student mental health with counseling and community-building to help everyone belong, and with weekly meetings of a threat assessment team to identify and reach out to students who have exhibited potentially troubling behavior.

Wesener Michael said the team includes professors, administrators and staff members looking for disruptions, unusual behavior, excessive absences or students who isolate themselves. The team finds appropriate outreach to connect with students who are identified as needing help.

"Every year as a new class of students comes to the institution, we work hard from the very beginning to welcome them," Wesener Michael said. "We are doing our best to make sure that students feel they have a home here."

The university also welcomes back the families of the victims each year for a Forward, Together Forward scholarship luncheon.

"They are forever part of the Husky family," Wesener Michael said.

Commemoration events of the tragedy's 10th anniversary continue through Wednesday.

On Saturday, the university scheduled a 2.14-mile reflection walk at 10 a.m. and a recognition of first responders during basketball games at 1 and 3:30 p.m. And on Wednesday at 3:06 p.m., bells will toll in remembrance of the lives lost as the community gathers for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Peaceful Reflection Garden.

"A decade after our tragedy, we celebrate the gift of perspective: We know what is important and what is not," Freeman said. "We are here. We love each other. We will never forget. We are NIU."

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