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DeKalb residents honor Conn. shooting victims

Bonnie Amesquita, an NIU employee, holds a candle at Memorial Park on Friday during a candlelight vigil for those who died in the Newtown, Conn., shooting last Friday.
Bonnie Amesquita, an NIU employee, holds a candle at Memorial Park on Friday during a candlelight vigil for those who died in the Newtown, Conn., shooting last Friday.

DeKALB – Dozens of people linked shoulder to shoulder in downtown DeKalb on Friday evening in an event honoring the victims of the Connecticut shooting.

As they memorialized a horror just a week old, they remembered another many months old.

“We stand here as one community scarred by violence reaching out across the cold, dark miles at night to another community, “ said event organizer Dan Kenney, referring to the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting at Cole Hall in which a former NIU student killed five students and injured several others before turning the gun on himself.

Friday’s event featured a candlelit vigil, prayers and songs at Memorial Park in frigid temperatures. Twenty-six people were killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., including 20 young students.

State state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen briefly discussed gun control when they spoke to the crowd.

“No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil from the world,” Pritchard said.

Povlsen recently signed the Mayors Against Illegal Guns proclamation, sent to him by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Povlsen supports the Second Amendment, but he is against people owning assault rifles. Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza used an assault rifle when he opened fire at the school.

“I am certainly opposed to weapons that are designed for killing a lot of people,” Povlsen said.

Co-pastor George Mitchell of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church thinks the issue also is about mental health. He said a lot of mass shootings start with people who have mental health issues. Reports said Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that is a development disorder, not a mental illness.

“We definitely have to put more resources, more dollars, into mental health,” Mitchell said.

A lot of legislative cuts are affecting mental health, he said.

DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery said the families in Newtown had no idea what was going to happen that day.

“They walked into that situation,” Lowery said. “They all expected to be safe. They all expected to go home that night. They all expected to see their family once again. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

DeKalb School District Superintendent James Briscoe said he could not figure out a meaning for what happened in Newtown.

“I know we’re supposed to learn something from it, but I don’t know if I ever will,” he said.

Kenney, a fourth-grade teacher at Brooks Elementary School in DeKalb, said school wasn’t the same after the shooting. He talked to his students about what happened and answered any questions they had.

“They started to get into a ‘what-if’ discussion, but I didn’t let that go anywhere because, with young kids like that, they could scare themselves by thinking what-ifs,” he said.

Kenney and other school officials assured his students that they are safe.

At Brooks Elementary School, there is only one entrance to the school. Guests are required to ring a bell to enter. Secretaries can see the guests because there is a video camera at the entrance.

The ceremony at Memorial Park ended with everyone singing “Amazing Grace.” One part of the gospel reads as follows:

“Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come, twas Grace that brought us safe thus far and Grace will lead us home.”

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