DeKALB – Family members of the Northern Illinois University students slain on campus eight years ago pulled each other closer Sunday, as bell tolls at 3:06 p.m. marked the time on that fateful day their lives were forever changed.
“When I speak with those who were on campus Feb. 14, 2008, I am struck by how deeply they still feel the pain of that day,” NIU President Doug Baker told the Daily Chronicle. “It was clearly a very dark hour in our history.”
Five students lay dead in a Cole Hall classroom Feb. 14, 2008, after a gunman opened fire: Gayle Dubowski, 20, Catalina Garcia, 20, Julianna Gehant, 32, Ryanne Mace, 19, and Daniel Parmenter, 20. Nineteen others were wounded.
Sunday’s air temperature was frigid, and the brisk snowfall slightly covered the makeshift shrines of roses, stuffed bears and crosses that were placed near the granite walls outside Cole Hall that bear each victims’ name.
Lorel Dubowski imagines that her daughter, Gayle, would be living a vibrant life now, likely fulfilling her dreams of helping those less fortunate.
“She was very creative, quite a piano player and singer. She loved life, she loved people,” said Dubowski, who was accompanied Sunday by her husband, son, granddaughter and a family friend who survived the shooting. “She wanted to travel to different countries ... and help people, help orphanages.”
The families acknowledge their individual loss, but say they also return to the Reflection Wall to support each other.
The five walls are part of the Memorial Garden, the official commemoration the school erected to remember the victims. “Forward, Together Forward,” the memorial’s theme, is also inscribed on them.
Joseph Dubowski, Gayle’s father, said he and his family return to campus on this day each year also “to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the families who lost their children as well.”
The massacre, which rocked the campus and made headlines around the world, was the first of its kind for the NIU first responders.
Although paramedic Karen Clifton started her shift hours after colleagues responded to the scene, she stood in the frigid temperatures Sunday to pay respect to the fallen Huskies and their surviving loved ones.
She was among the dozens who were there “out of respect for the families,” she said.
“They deserve it,” Clifton said.
The incident predated Baker’s arrival as president, but he said he remains in awe of how students, faculty and staff have vowed to move forward.
“I am always amazed at the resiliency they display,” he said. “Rather than allowing that moment to negatively define NIU, it has inspired us to work toward building a stronger community, and it continues to motivate those efforts to this day.”