NIU community gathers for service

NIU community gathers to remember five students slain in shooting
DEKALB, Ill. Five students killed by a gunman on Valentine's Day were remembered.

The memorial was simulcast to NIU gatherings across the country and in Iraq.

Among those on hand at the university Sunday were senators Barack Obama and Dick Durbin and Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Each student at the service was given a small flashlight to represent the hope and strength of the NIU family during a difficult and painful chapter. The convocation center was at capacity Sunday night as students and faculty came together to shed tears and comfort each other.

School leaders praised the community and asked students to remain strong as they head back to class Monday.

"I have seen deep sorrow of the five victims' families, but I have seen your courage. And I have seen your strength," said NIU President John Peters.

During the choir's first song, presidential candidate Barack Obama made a subtle entrance on stage and greeted family members of the victims afterwards, but he did not make a speech. The other senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, asked the school community to focus on Monday.

"This great university will rise from this sad moment to be ever stronger," Durbin said.

During his remarks, Governor Blagojevich talked about the five students who lost their lives.

"Daniel's dying act was to protect his girlfriend," the governor said.

So that all students could participate Sunday night, the university broadcast the service at other locations on campus.

Students say the memorial service was successful, a fitting tribute to the victims and the perfect way to bring the campus together.

"The whole campus has been down, and just bringing it back here and coming to this brought it into perspective again," said student Justin Chinn.

"It was fantastic. Some place to go with my family and friends and see the outpouring of grace and compassion from everyone," said Mandy Hoff, also a student.

"We all need to make sure that we're all thinking and feeling the same way and that we're ready to love and support each other, and that's what we decided tonight," said Jan Smith, a member of the NIU staff.

More than 300 volunteer counselors will be on hand Monday. The university is trying to arrange to have one counselor in every classroom. They will be on campus throughout the week to work with students. There will be extra security on hand Monday, as well.

In honor of the victims, for the memorial service, the university changed the last line of the school's alma mater, the song they sang together at the end. It now reads "Let our tears fall one by one, and heal NIU."

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