This past week marks a sad anniversary for many people in Illinois. On 2/14/2008 a gunman opened fire on a lecture hall full of students at Northern Illinois University’s Cole Hall before taking his own life. During those terrible minutes, many students were injured and five were fatally wounded. There are probably many students on our campus that have personal connections to the NIU campus, and perhaps even the people affected by this tragedy. I am one of those students.
On February 14, 2008 I was shocked and frightened to see that familiar campus on the national news. I had just resigned my position as an Events Administrator at NIU a few months prior to this tragedy. I was adjusting to my new job title of Stay at Home Mom when this horrible event took place. The afternoon was a flurry of phone calls, emails, and social media messages as I was trying to gain information and assure that the people that I cared about were safe. Fortunately, my friends, former co-workers, and student workers were all okay. It doesn’t make the events of the day any less tragic, but it did mean that I was able, after time, to take a step back from what happened that day and begin moving on with my life. I still pray for those who weren’t afforded that luxury.
The stories that have come out of that day are touching. Julianna Gehant was a nontraditional student and Army veteran who was studying to become an elementary teacher. Gayle Dubowski was a sophomore majoring in Anthropology who loved to sing and read the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. Daniel Parmenter was a finance major and worked for the campus newspaper. He died while trying to protect his girlfriend from the gunman. Catalina Garcia, a sophomore majoring in elementary education, was described as a fun-loving and creative people person. Ryanne Mace, a psychology major, had hopes of earning her doctorate degree and working as a counselor.
The NIU campus community has come together over the past six years to honor the memories of the fallen students. Victims of the tragedy were awarded posthumous degrees, a memorial was established on campus, and a scholarship program was created in honor of those five students. While living in fear of our classrooms and campus buildings is not the way to honor the NIU students who were lost, we would be doing them a disservice by not remembering what happened that day and striving for safety on our own campus.