Moving Forward at NIU

February 10, 2009 8:37:41 PM PST
It's been nearly one year since a gunman killed five students at Northern Illinois University.Many survivors have recovered from physical wounds. But the emotional scars may haunt them for a lifetime. Attention to the anniversary prompts flashbacks for some.

Throughout this year, survivors have struggled but they are moving forward. We learn about their recovery as they reclaim their lives after tragedy.

It's a place filled with hope, amid remembrances of heartache and horror.

The memorial room at Northern Illinois University commemorates five students who were killed last Valentine's Day and bears witness to the enduring support by from the Dekalb Community and beyond.

The memories are not confined to the room.

"I have to walk past Cole Hall to go to class. Every time I walk past it will be in the back of my head and I'll remember it," said Unnum Rahman, NIU shooting victim.

Unnum Rahman was shot in the arm and face, including a shotgun pellet in her right eye. She says her realization of what had happened came when her parents first saw her in the hospital.

"You could see how upset they were in their eyes, that kind a hurt," said Rahman.

After surgery to remove the pellet in her eye last summer, her sight is nearly normal. She credits her recovery physically and emotionally to her family and close friends.

"I think I have absorbed it. I think it's hard that it happened though," said Rahman.

Patrick Korellis was three months from graduating when he was hit in the back of the head and arm, running from Cole Hall.

"Anytime I look at my arm and see the scar there or if I'm outside in the cold shoveling and a feel a pain here it will just come back to me," said Korellis.

He says the going back to finish out the semester was difficult. He leaned on his brothers and close friends especially to get through the last year, finding distractions in everyday life. Now a graduate, he has mixed feeling about being away from campus.

"It was easier for me because I didn't have to start up with classes again and pass by Cole Hall and see different reminders all over but then again the support I received on campus helped me a lot," said Korellis.

Maria Ruiz Santana was among the most critically injured as she lay in Cole Hall, bleeding from her neck.

"I was just like, this is it I'm done. I felt like I was just going to let myself go," said Maria Ruiz Santana.

Before she let go, a stranger brought her back.

"That's when I was kinda like, okay Maria, forget about dying cause you're not going to die you're going to be okay. That's why I consider him my hero," said Ruiz Santana.

Her hero turned out to be the head of campus security, Chief Donald Grady.

"She fought and that was absolutely inspiring," said Chief Grady, NIU Public Safety.

While Maria was recovering in the hospital, Chief Grady once again offered her assistance: an internship.

Good things came of it. The two have become friends and Ruiz Santana is committed to law enforcement, hoping to bring her life's experience to situations she might encounter.

"I know as a victim how you can feel," said Ruiz Santana.

"This particular circumstance will help Maria tremendously as she goes on. Understanding that on the other side of things people have feelings," said Chief Grady.

Yes, survivors carry the scars of 2/14 with them. And yet as they recover, some are finding self confidence and purpose in their lives they hadn't known before.

"Stop living your life in the quiet your life," said Unnum.

"It made me realize never take life for granted," said Korellis.

"I had a second chance and I'm taking that chance," said Ruiz Santana.

NIU created a department specifically to help the survivors. The university says 220 students were affected. Each student is recovering in their own way.

Coming up on Tuesday at 6 p.m., ABC7 will show you how other students on campus are remembering those who were killed. And at 6 p.m. on Thursday, ABC7 will take a look at changes on campus to prevent violence, including new classroom surveillance.