DeKALB – Jaime Garcia, 36, stood outside Northern Illinois University’s Peaceful Reflection Garden on Thursday to remember his baby sister, Catalina Garcia, and her “fun-loving” spirit.
Catalina Garcia was 20 when she was killed during a shooting in Cole Hall on Feb. 14, 2008, an event that has shaped the character of NIU in the 11 years since. Daniel Parmenter, 20, Ryanne Mace, 19, Julianna Gehant, 32, and Gayle Dubowski, 20, also were killed in the shooting, which injured 19 others.
Dozens gathered in front of the memorial stones honoring all five members of the Huskie family Thursday just before 3:06 p.m., when the bells on campus tolled five times, once for each life lost.
“I think [this gathering] is very powerful to keep the memory alive,” said Jaime Garcia, who traveled from his home in Chicago along with Catalina’s friend and sorority sister, Deyci Ramirez, to remember his sister. “Time does help heal, but as years go by, I think it’s always important to reflect. And being able to come back and see the love for not just my sister, but everyone else, is great.”
The families and friends of the victims stood up in front of the stones as the bells tolled. Each memorial stone was adorned with flowers, crosses, and notes of love.
“[Catalina] was fun, always in a great mood. She ate a lot of Flaming Hot Cheetos and Coke,” Jaime Garcia recalled, laughing. “I almost never saw her upset, she was fantastic.”
Ramirez, who graduated from NIU in 2007, and with her master’s degree in 2018, reflected on the importance of memorializing the victims every year.
“I think this also provides validation to the family, that they will have the support from not only the university, but friends, and people that haven’t necessarily been there to experience such a huge loss,” Ramirez said. “To come together as a community and say, ‘We’re still here, and we may not know who they were,
but we’re still here in solidarity,’ shows reassurance that we’re always going to be here, not just to remember them but also to continue to thrive through that legacy that they left behind.”
Indeed, that legacy is why Ambria Hughes, 20, of Harvey, a transfer student and sophomore, came out Thursday for the memorial. She was only 10 years old when the shooting happened.
“I remember watching it on the news,” she said. “This is really sad. They were just kids themselves, and they should be alive today.”
Deputy Police Chief Darren Mitchell remembers 2008 well, since he’s been with the NIU Police Department for 19 years. He stood outside the memorial Thursday, waiting for the bells to toll, with a few other of his fellow officers.
“It was one of the most challenging dates in NIU history,” Mitchell recalled. “We want to make sure our community feels safe. We want to always show respect to the victims that were lost, and make sure our community comes to support each other.”
DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster was on the scene that day, too, and said the bond that grew between the people in his ranks who responded to the scene, and NIU is still felt today.
“Many of our firefighters vividly remember that day; it has affected our department,” McMaster said. “It’s really forged a bond between NIU police, the city, the fire department. It’s always good to come together, touch base and show each other that we haven’t forgotten and we still support each other.”
In addition to the memorial, NIU announced the five recipients of their annual Forward, Together Forward scholarships Thursday.