- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2009

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) | Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn joined thousands of mourners gathered at Northern Illinois University on Saturday to mark the day one year ago when a gunman fatally shot five students in a lecture hall before turning the gun on himself.

School administrators, students, and friends and families of the victims attended a commemoration ceremony and a wreath-laying at a planned memorial site near the still-closed Cole Hall. A candlelight vigil was planned for later Saturday.

Courtney Roy, 20, visited the campus Saturday for the first time to remember childhood friend Gayle Dubowski, who was fatally shot by Steven Kazmierczak on Feb. 14, 2008.

She joined thousands of people at the service in the university’s darkened convocation center, where students on stage recited quotes from family and friends about each of the people killed.

“She would’ve wanted me to be here,” Miss Roy said. “She always pushed me, and she’s pushing me now.”

School President John Peters said the community had been “strengthened by a renewed sense of unity and purpose.” He was joined by Mr. Quinn and the victims’ families in hanging wreaths at the site, where five markers - engraved with the names of each student killed, along with the words, “Forward Together” - stood.

Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old former NIU student, stepped from behind a screen on the lecture hall stage, carrying four guns. He fired dozens of shots into the geology class.

Killed were Miss Dubowski, 20; Catalina Garcia, 20; Julianna Gehant, 32; Ryanne Mace, 19; and Daniel Parmenter, 20. Nineteen people were wounded.

Adekunle Sosina, a 22-year-old senior from Chicago, appeared shaken as he left Saturday’s service. He said he would have been in Cole Hall if he hadn’t skipped a class.

“I feel like it could’ve been anybody,” he said. “You have to pay homage to your fellow students.”

University officials Saturday announced a plan to plant 20 trees and erect five slabs of granite on a site near Cole Hall as a permanent memorial. Each stone would be engraved with a victim’s name.

Officials and friends have said Kazmierczak struggled with mental health troubles, but no motive has been determined and no suicide note was ever found.

The survivors have found different ways to cope. Some, such as Maria Ruiz-Santana, who was shot in the throat, found closure in a visit to Cole Hall. Harold Ng, who was struck in the head by shotgun pellets, has turned to his religion.

“There’s an anxiousness,” Scott Peska, director of NIU’s Office of Support and Advocacy, said of the nearly 25,000-member student body. “The whole campus, they’re remembering how they were impacted.”

Miss Ruiz-Santana, who previously wanted a career in law enforcement, wants to be a police officer and interned with the NIU campus police last semester. She wants to help victims of mass shootings and is considering getting a gun license.

“I’m not afraid of guns even after what happened to me,” she said.

For Mr. Ng, a 22-year-old communications major who was shot in the back of his head, his scars - both physical and emotional - remain. Recently his mother commented on the marks on his scalp while giving him a haircut. Ng’s mind also spins when he thinks about how he could have died that day.

“I’ve always had those questions,” he said. “What if it was me? Why was I lucky?”

Since the shootings, Mr. Ng said, he’s followed through on some of his life passions, such as becoming a worship leader at the Baptist Campus Ministry.

The shootings “gave me the motivation to do things I wouldn’t normally do, get involved more,” he said.

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