DeKALB – Six years ago, DeKalb Fire Battalion Chief James Zarek was in an ambulance carrying a Northern Illinois University student who had been shot to the hospital.
Gayle Dubowski died Feb. 14, 2008, along with four other students who were shot in Cole Hall: Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter.
Zarek was among dozens who gathered Friday for the sixth anniversary of the campus shooting to honor the victims in the Forward Together Forward Memorial Garden. Zarek called the moment humbling.
"It's important to remember what happened, to remember the sacrifice that they made for their community here and to always, always keep that in our memory," Zarek said. "Whether you're here or not isn't as big a deal as keeping it in your heart and keeping it in your memories."
Bells rang five times across campus at 3:06 p.m., the time of the shooting. The moment of reflection was less structured than the formal wreath ceremony NIU officials organized in past years as the campus moves from healing to remembrance.
Former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, entered NIU's Cole Hall six years ago and opened fire, also injuring 16 others before turning the gun on himself. Most of the students who were on campus that day have graduated, but many students know what took place.
NIU senior Patty Fernandez, a corporate communications major, had a class in Cole Hall after it reopened in January 2012 with a new auditorium and the NIU Anthropology Museum.
"This is something that affected the whole campus," Fernandez said, her voice choking with emotion as tears pooled in her eyes.
Fernandez was touched that so many people gathered Friday to honor the victims.
"You felt the respect in the air," she said. "I've never heard a campus so quiet."
Hami Arain, an NIU freshman and broadcast journalism major, said nearly the entire student population knows what happened that tragic day and remembers where they were six years ago.
When the bells rang, Arain was outside Neptune Hall, a dormitory, and saw a group of people form a circle and bow their heads in a moment of silence, he said.
"I'm going to remember that moment," Arain said. "I might not be here next year, but I'm going to remember that."
The moment of reflection had a different format than past ceremonies, but the turnout reflects the spirit behind the NIU and DeKalb area community, Zarek said.
"It's good to see the NIU community is still binding together as a family," he said, "to remember those that will always be part of the NIU family and part of the DeKalb community."