NIU community gathers for wreath laying ceremony at Cole Hall


 A woman leaves flowers at the memorial stone of Dan Parmenter Tuesday afternoon during the Memorial Wreath ceremony outside of Cole Hall.

By Linze Griebenow

On a somber Valentine’s Day, Joe Dubowski, father of fallen Huskie Gayle Dubowski, pointed to the a Forward, Together Forward Memorial Garden stone and said, “That’s my daughter.”

Tuesday, NIU students and faculty gathered to reflect on the events of Feb. 14, 2008, when Steven Kazmierczak entered a Cole Hall classroom and opened fire, killing five students and injuring 21 others before killing himself. The shooting’s five victims were honored and remembered during a wreath laying ceremony Tuesday.

The ceremony was conducted by NIU President John Peters. Peters was accompanied by friends and family of the victims in a precessional walk which ended in front of Cole Hall.

“Today, dear friends, Northern Illinois University, touched by tragedy, unified in sorrow and in loss, is nonetheless strong in our commitment to continue as always,” Peters said.

As NIU continues to heal, changes in the student body make for a diverse collection of memories and suggestions for moving forward.

Sophomore theatre major Vanessa Glover’s relationship with NIU began a year after the shooting. Glover said NIU’s status as the site of a shooting was not evident year-round.

“You didn’t feel it in the atmosphere until right around Valentine’s Day, when you saw everyone walking around [Cole Hall],” Glover said. “It’s like, Valentine’s Day is usually a really happy day, but then coming here, it’s different. It’s a really depressing feeling; you can feel the tragedy.”

Since becoming a member of the NIU community, Glover said the events of Feb. 14, 2008, have given her greater insight on how to treat people around her and has given her a more meaningful appreciation of life.

For Samantha McDonald, freshman political science major, the perception of NIU as a dangerous and divided campus has proven false.

“I can really see that the student body has a connection,” McDonald said. “I know this is going to sound weird, but they seem more connected since it occurred.”

McDonald said that although she came to NIU several years later, she believes it is imperative not to forget fellow students who have died. Incoming classes should embrace the university’s closeness since the event, she said.

“It’s kind of like a tight-knit family, and I’m like the baby coming in trying to get to know people,” McDonald said.

Paul Palian, director of media and public relations, said he believes that while the community will likely always remember Valentine’s Day as the day NIU lost beloved students, the campus must refocus its attention on the good that has emerged as a result of reconstructing Cole Hall.

“Obviously the events of Feb. 14 are in everybody’s hearts and in their memories, and what we have here is a promise to continue their vision of learning,” Palian said. “Cole Hall is part of the fabric of the university and so today’s events have special meaning, especially this year with the building now being open and the focus returning to learning.”

Glover agreed that Cole Hall serves as a central point of remembrance and reflection, and also as a point of new beginnings.

“I feel like it does pay a really good tribute,” Glover said. “I think it’s good that they didn’t tear the building down and kind of rededicated it to those students.”

Looking into the future, NIU plans to honor the victims of Feb. 14 annually, which Glover said is important.

“One of our other departments have really worked with the families,” Palian said. “Everything we do regarding this space is done in consultation with the families because, ultimately, as we move forward with Cole Hall, with the memorial garden, this is something that’s reflective of their children and the learning that they were pursuing.”

McDonald said while it was a deeply meaningful ceremony, she wishes she could have had the opportunity to hear more about the individuals.

“I just wished they had more people come up and tell their stories and memories with the person that they knew,” McDonald said. “I feel like time heals all, but there’s going to be that one scar. They should do it every year to let people know and educate them on what happened here and that what you do impacts another person’s life and you never know what might happen as a result of that.”

Glover said she doesn’t believe that the attitudes surrounding the shooting will change much in the future, but that is not necessarily bad.

“This is something that is going to live on forever,” Glover said. “Their names are never going to be forgotten, they’re always going to be part of this university and I feel like they should do this memorial every year for the rest of Northern’s existence.”

Palian said he believes Northern has come back stronger every year.

“It’s evident throughout the university, it’s part of the fabric,” Palian said. “President Peters says it best with, ‘We will always remember, we will never forget.'”

Joe Dubowski has since settled into the NIU student body, following the footsteps of daughter Gayle.

“I’m a fellow Huskie, too,” Dubowski said. “Graduating in May.”

Peters concluded the ceremony by saying that Tuesday’s events, as well as the reopening of Cole Hall, were dedicated to, “our cherished five, who were so engaged in the thrill of learning.”