Note to readers: This story has been edited to reflect the lyric in the NIU Huskies' fight song, "forward, together forward," was written before the 2008 shooting at Cole Hall.
DeKALB – The bells outside Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University will toll five times Thursday to remember the five students shot and killed Feb. 14, 2008.
It’s been 11 years since the event NIU Police Cmdr. Donald Rodman has said is now “ingrained in the fabric of NIU.” And the university will once again pay homage to those who lost their lives when a gunman entered Cole Hall and began shooting into the crowd. In addition to the five who lost their lives, 19 more people were injured.
“We lost five members of our community, and it’s important we stop and honor that,” said Kelly Wesener-Michael, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “The families will always be close to us, and part of our Huskie family.”
Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester, was studying finance. Ryanne E. Mace, 19, of Carpentersville, was studying psychology. Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota, was studying elementary education. Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero, was studying elementary education. And Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream, was studying anthropology. They all lost their lives during the shooting.
The moment of reflection will begin at 3 p.m. Thursday outside Cole Hall on campus. The bells will toll at 3:06 p.m., once for each victim.
For Wesener-Michael, paying homage 11 years later is more than just about what happened on that day.
“For me, it’s about the resilience of this institution,” she said. “That was an extremely dark and challenging day for us. I was on campus and part of the recovery effort. It really galvanized our community to come together and helped us as an institution understand that together we can stand against any challenge.”
And together they did. After the shooting, administrators put an emphasis on the phrase “forward, together forward,” a lyric from the Huskies' fight song. It’s also the name of the scholarship fund set up since the shooting, to honor the victims and to reward current students for community and academic achievements.
“I think every tragedy has this piece that’s beyond words to be able to describe,” Wesener-Michael said. “It’s people coming together. The positive pieces, the sense of purpose, the resilience, I still see today.”
Five current students will be awarded with a Forward, Together Forward scholarship in 2019. The names of the scholarship recipients will be posted to the university’s website Thursday, said Lisa Miner, senior director of institutional communications in enrollment management.
According to the scholarship web page, The Forward, Together Forward Endowment was funded by more than 1,770 donors. Five $4,000 scholarships are given out annually to students who have demonstrated a “strength of character” such as strong work ethic, motivation, inspiration, a high regard for others, integrity, intellectual curiosity, and also have at least a 2.50 cumulative grade-point average.
Even for students just stepping foot on campus, over a decade later, the effects of Feb. 14, 2008, can still be felt.
“As we’re giving tours of campus and talking about our tradition, we talk about it,” Wesener-Michael said. “Not only in terms of it happening, but our resilience. It’s helping our students to understand what it means to be a part of the Huskie family.”