As you approach the makeshift Memorial on campus in DeKalb, Illinois at Northern Illinois University on this bitterly-cold evening, you are struck by the steady stream of students coming and going to pay tribute to the victims of the shooting that took place on Valentine’s Day on campus.
Students trudge up a slight hill crusted with frozen snow and ice to the crosses. They lay fresh flowers at the base of the Memorial. Some linger a moment, silently feeling the immense weight of the sadness. One boy blessed himself as he left, making the traditional Catholic Sign of the Cross.
As you leave your floral or written tribute, as I did, —-hundreds of pounds of fresh roses and other fragrant flowers, dying quickly in the frigid air, despite efforts to cover and protect them with a plastic tarpaulin— you feel like crying on this hushed frigid night. The emotional impact is overwhelming. You think of the students, themselves, almost as fragile flowers. The plastic tarp that won’t protect against the cold that kills is much like our parental concern, that can’t protect against a gunman gone mad.
When I asked how I might walk to Cole Hall, the UNI student I spoke with said, “Oh, the cops won’t let you get within a block of Cole Hall.” Cole Hall will not be used for classes for the rest of this school year. It is cordoned off.
Tomorrow, here in Milan, Illinois, one of the Quad Cities that I call home, one of the shooting victims, 20-year-old Daniel L. Parmenter of Taylor Ridge, Illinois, will be laid to rest in Milan at Chapel Grove Cemetery. Daniel’s first funeral was held at 2 p.m. today (Tuesday, February 19) at Christ Church in Oak Brook, Illinois. His second funeral will be held Wednesday at Taylor Ridge Methodist Church with burial at Chapel Grove Cemetery immediately afterwards.
Daniel’s older sister, Kristen, graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island, another of the Quad Cities. The funeral home director at Hursen Funeral Home in Hillside, Illinois, handling Daniel’s funeral arrangements, Anthony Rainiero said, “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people in line since 2:30 this afternoon (at the funeral home).” He described the profound sadness in the eyes of the hundreds of people who attended Daniel’s visitation as “amazing”, something unparalleled for him in his more than 20 years in the funeral business.
Meanwhile, Lauren DeBrauwere, Daniel’s girlfriend, who was sitting right next to him in one of the front rows in Cole Hall the day of the shooting, struggles to recover from both her physical and psychological wounds. She remembers everything.
Although groggy from stomach surgery, with a tube still lodged in her throat, Lauren remembers how gunman Steven Kazmierczak walked onto the stage literally minutes before the geology class was to end. Lauren assumed the black-clad person was there to make an announcement. Then, he tried to shoot the instructor, who ducked behind his podium. (The instructor was shot in the arm, but is expected to fully recover.)
Next, Kazmierczak pointed the shotgun at the students in front of him in the large lecture hall and pulled the trigger. Lauren was near the front of the class and saw the gunman use a handgun to shoot and kill her boyfriend, Dan Parmenter, before he shot her in the abdomen and hip. Steve Kazmierczak proceeded to shoot the girl sitting next to Lauren, as well. Mark Debrauwere, Lauren’s father said, “It was almost like he went down a line.”
Lauren didn’t know the shooter and she never had a chance to run. She lay crumpled on the ground, talking to the fatally wounded Parmenter before losing consciousness. When rushed to Kishwaukee Community Hospital, doctors discovered that one bullet had exited her buttocks; the other bullet had traveled up her body and lodged above her left breast, narrowly missing her heart.
Lauren was conscious when she was transferred to the hospital. She kept saying, “My stomach hurts. Please make it stop.” Then she would ask about Daniel. Doctors and family lied to her about Daniel, for a while. “She knew what had happened. She kept asking us about Dan, and we lied to her for a while, but she knew (he’d been killed). She saw it. She definitely had seen what happened,” said Lauren’s father Dan.
Lauren was airlifted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. In time, she is expected to make a full physical recovery. The psychological effects will be harder to assess. She won’t be able to be present at Dan Parmenter’s funeral today, to see the Pi Kappa Alpha floral tribute near his coffin, with a tag reading, “We will all remember your son Dan as a wonderful person.” The photos of Parmenter as a child, Boy Scout and young man, skiing and playing volleyball, sit near his coffin, but Lauren won’t be able to be there to view them for herself, to seek closure on the tragedy of her near-death experience and the loss of the boy she cared for deeply.
Mourners snaked around the side of the Hursen funeral home in Hillsen on Monday afternoon, dozens and dozens of sad people, waiting in near-zero temperatures, some clutching flowers and cards, all waiting to pay their respects. Family friend George Sefer of Elmhurst (IL) said, “Dan was a quiet young man. Very nice and very determined.”
Meanwhile, in Cicero, Catalina Garcia was mourned by a huge crowd at her funeral at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church as “a daughter of Cicero” by attending city officials, while her grieving family buried her. The youngest of four children in a family that migrated to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, Catalina was studying to become a teacher.
A mariachi band played hymns during the Spanish mass. Photographs around her coffin spelled out her nickname, “Cati.” The photos flanked Catalina’s body, dressed in a pink ballgown-style dress and wearing a jeweled tiara, lying inside a pale pink casket. Mourners wore pink ribbons and ties and hair bands in honor of Catarina. Pink was Cati’s favorite color.
Those shot but still hospitalized, like Lauren DeBrauwere, try to recover from the devastating psychological effect of routinely going off to the geology class lecture hall with 120 other students (160 were enrolled in the geology lecture class, but only 120 were present) on a normal class day, but emerging from that class on a stretcher, boyfriends and classmates killed in front of their eyes. One female member from the Quad Cities described her panic as she ran for her life, thinking, “I’m dead! I’m dead! I’m dead! Now, if I run, he’s going to shoot me. I’m dead! I’m dead!” To run or to play dead was not an option if you were wounded as quickly and as badly as Lauren DeBrauwere. And, too, she was concerned for her boyfriend, Dan, who lay next to her, fatally wounded.
In DeKalb, Samantha Dehner, a DeKalb native who was shot twice during the attack, was released from Kishwaukee Community Hospital. Dehner, 20, had a 2-hour surgery on Friday to repair a shattered bone in her arm. She was too overcome with emotion to speak at a Monday news conference with her doctors. Samantha began to cry, and was removed from the room. Doctors are unsure whether Dehner will ever regain the full use of her right arm and elbow. Samantha Dehner had been friends since fourth grade with Gayle Dubowski, who was also killed in the attack, and she was close friends with another of the wounded students.
Her father, Robert Dehner, said, “She’s a tough kid. She’ll make it. She said to me, ‘You know, Dad. I was shot. I think I deserve a car.'” Then he choked up, detailing what will happen next. In the fall, Dehner will return to campus and move into her sorority house, Sigma Kappa. Her father was visibly upset when he added, “We do consider ourselves lucky that we’re able to take our daughter home.”