The father of one of the victims from the shootings at NIU says he's found a new purpose in life. And now Gary Parmenter is trying to share it with others.
"We need not walk alone, we are the Compassionate Friends. We reach out to each other in love and understanding and with hope," said Parmenter.
Gary Parmenter gave a message of hope on Monday night to other grieving parents.
Eighteen months ago, Parmenter admits, hope was hard to find. His 20-year-old son, Dan, was one of five victims killed in the 2008 Northern Illinois University shootings.
Parmenter says he was nearly paralyzed by grief, but with the help of a support group called Compassionate Friends, he's found a new mission in life and is giving back.
"I was able to let go of the pain. And that's part of what I want to help other parents realize too, is that by working through the grief and being in a support group, it is possible to get beyond the pain," said Parmenter.
Compassionate Friends has 600 chapters nationwide, but there had never been one here in the near west suburbs until now. The first English-speaking meeting takes place at Cicero's community center and it seems only fitting that it would be in a room dedicated to Catalina Garcia, another of the NIU shooting victims.
Beverly Vargas is helping Gary with the meetings, and understands his pain all too well. On St. Patrick's Day, 2007, her 16-year-old grandson, Mark Ballard, was shot in the chest and killed in Cicero. His murder remains unsolved.
Vargas says she was diagnosed with grief-induced depression and thought about suicide until she finally found compassionate friends.
"I didn't want to do anything, couldn't find help so I wanted to make sure that other people wouldn't go through the same thing I did and they would find the help that they need immediately," said Vargas.
Compassionate Friends is open to any family member grieving over the death of a child of any age and for any cause, not just violence.