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Schott: Echoes of a horrific day 5 years ago

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Today is a day I hate to remember but can never forget.

I don’t think I’m alone.

Do I really need to put in the details of what happened Feb. 14, 2008? The who, what, where, when and why?

As a journalist, my answer is yes. My profession assumes readers do not know the details. My job is to provide them.

As someone who lived in the DeKalb area for five years and experienced firsthand that horrific day, my answer is no.

Who doesn’t know those details? Who hasn’t, every year on this day, thought of those five lives cut short when a gunman walked into Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire?

Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter. I never met them, but can spell their names from memory. Five people forever missed by those lucky enough to know them, those who can now only cherish their memory.

I won’t pretend what I feel is anything close to the emotions that must grip their loved ones not just today, on this sad anniversary, but every day. But I have mourned their loss.

I have thought of them every time there has been a mass shooting since then – and there have been more than 15. Somewhere, in a place probably a little like DeKalb, a new set of family and friends are joining an ever-expanding group of people thrust into an unimaginable despair no one would wish on their most hated enemy.

The sadness is followed by guilt that I remember them because of the way they died instead of the way they lived. And because it has likely been awhile since I have thought of them at all.

And the guilt is followed by anger that five years later, these tragedies continue and, as was the case in DeKalb, there is never truly an answer about why it happened. Despite passionate rhetoric from lawmakers, I have no hope this country will see real reform when it comes to limiting the availability of firearms and increasing access to mental health care.

There’s another loss I struggle with. It’s difficult to define, yet it’s an almost palpable feeling that haunts me.

It’s losing the notion that a tragedy of this magnitude couldn’t happen where I lived, a diminished faith in others, or maybe the shattering of any lingering illusions that life doesn’t unfold in a Mayberry-like town – or that such a setting is even possible to attain.

Time has softened the emotions of five years ago, if not the crystal-clear memories.

From the second of sheer panic I felt when the newsroom confirmed there was a shooter on campus, to the adrenaline rush and professional focus that propelled me through 72 hours of little sleep and nonstop reporting, to the realization that – in watching the community’s compassionate reaction – I lived in a pretty special place.

All have faded from my everyday thoughts. And that makes me feel unworthy because there was once a time I thought I’d never not remember Catalina, Daniel, Gayle, Julianna and Ryanne every day.

A co-worker who was also at the Daily Chronicle five years ago said this was the first year she could look at today on the calendar and think first of Valentine’s Day, and then the anniversary of the shooting.

I’m not there yet. Maybe that’s something to strive for.

Like all such anniversaries – days no one really wants to remember but demand to be commemorated – the jarring reality and horror of that day has diminished. That is what must happen if wounds are to heal and we are to move forward.

But the scars that remain – even if they are invisible – ensure we never forget.

• Kate Schott was an editor with the Daily Chronicle from 2007-2012. She is now the managing editor for projects/investigative reporting for Shaw Suburban Media, which owns the Daily Chronicle. She can be reached at kschott@shawmedia.com or at 815-526-4457.

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