Church services Sunday took on extra importance as a community tried to comes to grips with what happened in their town and left so many people with deep emotional wounds.
To understand the impact the tragedy is having on the entire community, it is important to realize NIU is a university of 25,000 students with thousands more faculty and staff. Almost everyone in DeKalb has some connection to the university. So, the town is not a place where community and university co-exist as separate entities. On the contrary, they are, in a very real sense, one.
Even though most of the NIU campus remained empty Sunday, a steady stream of students and others came to visit the memorials around Cole Hall, where the shooting took place. Fresh flowers are laid at the foot of crosses bearing the names of the victims. Some visitors wrote condolences on the board. "Today we are all huskies," one message read.
The church services all over town Sunday also illustrated that the community, not just the university, is in mourning.
"We were hit with an extraordinary storm that had no clouds. There was no wind. There was no indication that the storm was coming," Pastor Joe Sanders of First Baptist Church told his congregation.
"My hometown will never be the same. We'll always be remembered for this event and what's happened. We've seen these tragic things happen in other places in the world and other places in our country and we said it would never happen here," said another minister said.
"Going to the scene afterward, it was chaotic. It was somber. It was something I never want to see again in my life," said James Weese, who attended church services Sunday.
"You see people coming together to pray, and we see the intensity," Collette Weese said.
University and community will come together for a memorial service in DeKalb on campus Sunday, February 24, one day before classes are set to resume.
Shooting victims remembered
Visitation was held Sunday for Catalina Garcia, one of the five students killed at NIU. Friends and family paid their respects at a funeral home in suburban Forest Park.
Garcia was a sophomore who, her family says, wanted to become an elementary school teacher. Her brother described her as 'pretty perfect.'
The student's family moved from Mexico to west suburban Cicero, where a funeral mass for her will be held Monday.
A visitation and funeral for Ryanne Mace will be held Monday, as well, in St. Charles.
Tuesday, visitation will held for Gayle Dubowski in Roselle. Her family is planning a private funeral, but there will be a memorial on Wednesday at Glenbard North high school.
A visitation will be Tuesday for Julianna Gehant. Her funeral will be Wednesday in Mendota.
Dan Parmenter will be buried Wednesday in Milan, Illinois.
NIU Memorial Fund established
According to the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, a NIU Memorial Fund has been established with the capability to accept tax deductible donations online through PayPal by visiting www.dekalb.org.
"All monies donated to the NIU Memorial Fund will be utilized in aiding the NIU community with the costs assocaited with this tragic event," the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce press release reads.
Donations also can be sent by mail to DCCF-NIU Fund at 26000 DeKalb Ave. Sycamore, IL 60178.