‘I didn’t know you, but I loved you’

Tyrel Linkhorn

Watch video of the vigil at Northern Illinois

Read and view KentNewsNet’s earlier coverage of the shootings.

DEKALB, Ill. – Emilie Berg and her mother Annie Berg stood on Northern Illinois University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commons Saturday morning, facing the memorial board that had been built the day before.

As Zoe, their Husky mix, curiously watched the few remaining members of the media take photos of her, Emilie, a senior marketing major, and her mother prayed and read the messages written on the white board before adding their own.

Gone were most of the law enforcement personnel who had been walking the campus the day before. Gone were the politicians and university officials who had came out to offer their condolences and promise to help lead the NIU family through the tragedy that had unfolded just hours before. Gone were most of the students, many of whom had gone home for the remainder of the weekend. And gone were most of the media, who had canvassed the university the day before, telling the story of what happened Thursday in a brick building called Cole Hall and the stories of what happened to the entire university afterward.

What remained on the cold, bright morning was a calm, peaceful quiet that seemed to envelop the snow-covered university.

“The messages seem more peaceful,” Annie said. “‘An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind,’ and it’s so true.”


Gayle Dubwoski, 19, sophomore anthropology major, Carol Stream, Ill.

Catalina Garcia, 20, sophomore undecided major, Cicero, Ill.

Julianna Gehant, 32, freshman elementary education major, Mendota, Ill.

Ryanne Mace, 19, sophomore psychology major, Carpentersville, Ill.

Daniel Parmenter, 20, sophomore finance major, Westchester, Ill.

Downtown, the flashing red sign in the window of Tommy O’s Restaurant and Pancake House read “Open,” but only a few of the 22 tables were occupied. Owner Scott Morrow said on a typical Saturday morning, the small diner is filled with students. This morning, most of the town is empty.

Normally the restaurant closes at 3 p.m., but Thursday it was scheduled to be open late for Valentine’s Day dinner. Sophomore nursing major Sarah Hilby was one of the servers working. When she saw she had a phone call from her sister in Chicago, she said she “knew something big had happened.”

Told that there had been a shooting at her school, she was confused. “I thought she was talking about my high school because I didn’t think it could happen here,” Hilby said.

As customers came in, they brought with them more details. Some canceled their reservations. Others came in off the street, looking for a place to eat and hear about what was going on.

“Everybody wanted the TVs on,” Morrow said.

Friday, the day after a man police identified as Steven P. Kazmierczak, 27, of Champaign, entered a lecture room in Cole Hall and opened fire, killing five and wounding 16 others before taking his own life, the campus had a very different feel.

Surrounded by media, those who remained recalled where they were when they received word about the shootings and mourned the deaths of their classmates.

Virak Hem, a sophomore pre-physical therapy major, recalled that he was in a biology lab in a building about 200 yards away from Cole Hall. Hem said the teaching assistant in the lab answered a ringing room phone shortly after 3 p.m., said “OK,” quickly hung up and ran to slam the doors shut.

Hem said all the students in the room looked at each other with “baffled looks.”

Right away, the announcement came: There was someone on campus with a gun.

“A lot of people didn’t know whether to take it seriously,” he said. It wasn’t long, though, before they learned just how serious it was.

The director of the biology labs entered the room a while later and told them that students had been shot – some had been killed.

About 45 minutes after the first announcement, Hem said they were allowed out into the hall of the building to make phone calls. Many, including Hem, couldn’t dial out due to overloaded cell phone towers. Fifteen minutes later, they were allowed out of the building.

“Everyone went home, locked themselves in their rooms and watched the rest on TV,” he said.

A friend of Hem’s was in the back row of the geology classroom when Kazmierczak entered the room and began shooting, but she was able to run out the back door uninjured, Hem said.

Outside, students gathered around five wooden crosses stuck in the snow on a small ridge in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commons. Each white cross had, in hand-painted red letters, the name of one of the victims: Daniel Parmenter, Catalina Garcia, Ryanne Mace, Julianna Gehant, Gayle Dubowski. A sixth was lain facedown in the snow, covered with a gray T-shirt, away from the other five. Saturday morning, it was placed with the others, upright, but facing the opposite direction. No name was painted on it.

Piles of flowers and candles grew throughout the day Friday as more students, alumni, staff and community members stopped to remember the fallen Huskies.

Eric Schmack, a junior undecided on his major, placed a black NIU baseball cap atop the cross bearing Daniel’s name.

“I just didn’t know what to do, so I came back,” Schmack said.

Inside the Holmes Student Center, about two hours before the 9 p.m. vigil, freshman illustration major Laura Devine sat on the floor in a tile hallway, surrounded by painting supplies, a small sketch and her laptop, a large black piece of fabric laid out in front of her.

She said she had attended a church service earlier in the day and was moved by the words of comfort her pastor shared with her congregation, and she wanted to share them with others.

“Artists, we’re communicators,” she said. “I have an itch to share comfort.”

Picking up a slightly wrinkled piece of paper, she read her handwriting that she was beginning to transfer to the fabric aloud:

“When you’re crying or fearful, angry or lonely, anxious or lost, know this: You are not alone. We’re all in this together, and we’ll heal together as a pack of Huskies. So show loved ones you care, reach out for help and take comfort that this too will pass.”

She said she hopes when people walk past her finished product, they’ll “feel like someone’s looking out for them.”

Upstairs from where Devine worked, the Duke Ellington Ballroom was set up with row upon row of white chairs, which were filled before the vigil was to start. Workers brought more chairs, filling the expanse of the entire room, but the crowd grew to standing-room-only well before NIU President John G. Peters took his place at the lectern, behind him a red NIU flag and large projection screens showing the Husky mascot over a black and red memorial ribbon to either side.

After an introduction and prayer, Peters spoke to the crowd, most of whom were clad in red, black or gray NIU sweatshirts, nearly all of whom had a black and red ribbon pinned to their shirt.

Peters slowly read the names of the five who were killed and spoke about remembering those who were healing in mind, body and spirit.

“Tonight, we wrap all these victims in the warm embrace of the NIU community.”

Tomorrow, Peters said, is the time to look for answers, regroup and find ways to move on.

“But tonight, we will simply allow ourselves to grieve and take in the enormity, the absolute enormity, of this sad, sad day.”

And they did.

Candles were lit, and tears flowed. Students put their arms around each other as they sang the alma mater, revised for the night with a last verse of “let our tears fall one by one and heal NIU.”

After the ceremony, at which the Rev. Jesse Jackson was present to give a prayer, the attendees exited, given roses as they walked out the door. Many walked out into the cold night air toward a makeshift memorial just outside the student center. Some paused to look at the dozens of lit candles, stuffed animals, balloons and ribbons. Others, like Dana Colantuono and Amanda Cox, added to the memorial.

Together the two lit five candles – one for each of the students killed. The two students held back tears as they said they didn’t know any of the five personally, but they were still their classmates.

Saturday morning, among the hundreds of messages on the memorial board was one on the upper right-hand corner written neatly in green ink.

“I didn’t know you, but I loved you.”

They were all Huskies.

Contact news editor Tyrel Linkhorn at [email protected].

Since Friday

Steven Kazmierczak’s girlfriend, Jessica Baty, told CNN yesterday that he called her at midnight on Valentine’s Day and told her goodbye. She said he had been off his anti-depressants about three weeks, but that he wasn’t acting abnormally.

Baty also said she received a package containing, among other things, a goodbye note and a gun holster and ammunition. Investigators are still searching for a motive in the attack.

As of Saturday, seven people remained hospitalized, according to the Associated Press. Three were listed in serious condition, four in fair condition.

The AP also reported over the weekend that Kazmierczak purchased two 9 mm Glock magazines and a Glock holster from the same Internet gun dealer that sold Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, a .22 caliber handgun.

Northern Illinois University posted on its Web site that it has canceled all classes and sporting events this week. Classes will resume Feb. 25. Classes held in Cole Hall, the site of the shooting, will be relocated for the remainder of the semester. Commencement will be pushed back one week.

Share your thoughts

What are your reactions to the shootings at Northern Illinois University? Leave comments on this story. We’ll run your

responses on Thursday’s Forum page in the Daily Kent Stater.