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NIU remembers and grieves 10 years after school shooting

Posted: February 19 2018 at 12:58 PM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt

Niu Memorial Site

Families of victims, survivors, students, University leaders and faith leaders gathered on Feb. 14 to remember the 10th anniversary of the school shooting which killed 5 people.

As bells tolled and wreaths were placed in remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the Valentine’s Day shooting which killed five students at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, news of another horrific school shooting was breaking in Florida.

Feelings of shock, fear and disbelief reemerged for the families of victims, survivors, students, University staff, the community and faith leaders who were gathering for the memorial service at the garden outside Cole Hall, where a gunman opened fire in a lecture hall the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2008 taking the lives of Ryanne Mace, the granddaughter of two retired pastors from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, and Daniel Parmenter.

“It was very hard day for all of us who were there not only because what happened to our campus (10 years ago), but because we were thinking something like this should not be happening again,” said the Rev. Rosa Lee, who is the Wesley Foundation’s Campus Minister at Northern Illinois University and participated in many of the week’s remembrances.

Pastor Lee said as she arrived at church for Ash Wednesday services at 5:30 p.m., the updated news was even more grim reporting 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. By the 9 p.m. service at Grace Place at NIU, Lee said the intention of the day’s message shifted.

Checking In To Reflection Space To Serve On Satuday

Rev. Rosa Lee offered support and pastoral prayers during the remembrance week on the NIU campus.

“We were prepared to talk about forgiveness of the shooter (at NIU) and light a sixth candle, but we could not talk about it since anger and fear from the Florida shooting had come over those attending,” said Lee.

United Methodist pastors and churches have been and continue to be a source of comfort for the NIU community grappling with these feelings of anger, fear and grief over the years. After the shooting in 2008, the Rev. Laura Crites, who was then Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church in DeKalb and NIU Campus Pastor Efrain Avila went to Kishwaukee Community Hospital, where many of the victims had been taken to offer counseling, comfort and help. The following day many area churches including Sycamore UMC held prayer vigils and that Sunday pastors reworked their message to offer healing.

“I cannot imagine how they (UM Pastors) dealt with all the fear, sorrow, and anger from that shooting, especially First UMC in DeKalb and Sycamore UMC where many NIU staff and faculty worshiped,” said Lee. “Their ministry has been so important for the community of NIU.”

In the following years, candlelight vigils were held, services changed gears and new students came, but the effects of the trauma remained fresh. United Methodist pastors continued to reach out to NIU staff with words of comfort and hope and area churches throughout the DeKalb and Rockford Districts knitted over a thousand prayers shawls which were passed out to participants at NIU events around the anniversary.

As the 10th anniversary approached, Lee and student leaders at the Wesley Foundation decided to provide a positive influence and share the love of Christ to comfort and encourage the community. Lee participated as a clergy volunteer at an appreciation service for first responders and provided support in reflection rooms. On the day of the anniversary,  students passed out candy on campus.

Student Sharing Chocolate To Put Encouragement On That Day

Students share chocolates on the NIU campus Feb. 14 to offer comfort and encouragement.

“We shared more than 200 chocolates with the sign of Jesus’ love on Feb. 14,” said Lee. “As we passed out the chocolate, we met survivors. It was great for us to see that they came back to comfort and encourage us and at the same time, it was really good for them to see that the next generation was doing something to comfort and encourage our community on that special day.”

Despite the horror brought about by continued gun violence once again on our schools, the United Methodist faith community remains steadfast in providing hope. “We as one community have moved forward TOGETHER by recognizing our love and support for each other as well as our sorrow and loss,” said Lee. We also believe we are stronger than our past and We are stronger than our fear.”

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