‘Let our flame burn bright’

Karen Macella, left, senior in LAS at Northern Illinois University, and Cindy Ehlers, from Eugene, Ore., play with Tikva, a Keeshond. Tikva is one of several dogs brought to the Northern Illinois memorials. Erica Magda

With children playing and rooms exhibiting artwork, Saturday did not feel like a typical memorial.

The parents of the students who were killed hung wreaths for their children on signs that read “Forward, together, forward.” This has become the motto for the Northern Illinois University community, which refuses to let last year’s shootings hold the campus back.

“Our university is a very large community,” said Michelle Kerulis, doctoral student at NIU.

Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at the university to remember the five students lost in the shootings at Cole Hall one year ago and the thousands on campus and throughout the community that were affected.


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NIU anniversary in photos

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“Thousands of lives were touched by five,” said Cherilyn Murer, chair of the Board of Trustees, at the Convocation Center Saturday morning. “There never was a moment that we doubted that we would overcome this adversity.”

Eddie Williams, executive vice president and chief of operations at the University, led everyone in prayer.

“We are thankful for the power of healing,” Williams said. “We ask for the continued healing … as we pursue our quest to make sure that darkness will never conquer our light.”

In the face of tragedy, the community managed to persevere.

“We knew we would prevail,” Murer said. “We move ahead because we believe that is what (the victims) want. We move on because we must.”

Murer added that the NIU family needs to continue to reach for their dreams.

“Every step we take, every degree we grant … is their legacy,” she said.

NIU President John Peters reminded all those gathered of a promise made the year before.

“A year ago in this very place, we vowed not to let an act of violence define us, and we have not,” Peters said. “We have met tragedy with forbearance, grief with comfort, and need with compassion. We have filled a dark void with the light of our love for one another.”

As the day came to a close, mourners gathered outside for a candlelight vigil.

“Tonight let our flame burn bright,” Peters said. “We are NIU.”

Exhibit displays theme of hope

Photographic images sent in from community members were displayed throughout the day as part of the “Images of Hope” exhibit at Northern Illinois University.

“They’re really neat and very touching,” said Marrilee Emmert, who viewed the exhibit and whose daughter attended NIU last year. “It really shows that the community is pulling together.”

Rhonda Robinson, professor of educational technology at NIU, started “Images of Hope” to help heal the campus community.

“The idea started because I have an interest in photography and how much photos can convey without words,” Robinson said.

More than 100 images were sent in from students and community members.

Generosity comes rushing in

In the days, weeks and months following the tragedy, NIU saw generosity from all over the country.

Spools of ribbon were sent to make memorial bows.

Counselors received beanie babies to help comfort grieving students and food for themselves, as they worked around-the-clock to help the school.

Virginia Tech formed a group: Hokies for Huskies. They worked to help the NIU community, as NIU has a group, Huskies for Hokies.

A middle school in Westmont, Ill., sent the American flag that flew over the Pentagon before and during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. They had raised funds to buy themselves the flag but thought it should go to NIU.

The Chicago White Sox wore NIU baseball hats throughout spring training and then raffled the hats in a fundraiser. President Peters threw out the first pitch in a White Sox game.

Canines continue to provide comfort

When Cindy Barker’s home burned down in December she turned to her dogs for comfort.

“They don’t judge people. They give you 110 percent of love,” Barker said.

Furry friends from all across the nation were on hand to lend aid and comfort to people attending the memorial events at Northern Illinois University.

Human and dog teams from the National Animal Assisted Crisis Response (AACR), an organization that has teams of trained dogs and their owners volunteer at crisis events, were on campus to help the students and community members.

The dogs were a part of a day that was intended to help the community continue to heal.

“People feel a sense of comfort, just from this day, which is important,” said Nikki Ruffin, doctorate student in the counseling program at Northern.

The Northern community brought in the dogs because of their efforts to aid grieving students, staff and faculty.

“(We are thankful for) the compassion that allowed us to cry and the comfort that eventually dried our tears,” said Cherilyn Murer, chair of the NIU Board of Trustees.

Andrea Drott, a health educator at Northern, said the dogs benefit everyone.

“Yesterday, I went out of my office specifically to find them,” Drott said.

Drott said the dogs are comforting for students and faculty.

“Having the dogs here again seems to help give the students a sense of home, since they can’t have their animals in the dorms,” Drott said. Barker and her dog Domino were one of the 11 teams on campus.

“They’re here to make everybody happy,” Barker said. “Therapy dogs work for people.”

Cindy Ehlers and Tikva, a Keeshond, came to NIU from Eugene, Ore., to lend support.

“The main thing with the dogs is that they bring comfort, normalcy and safety,” Ehlers said. “Trauma isolates, and when the dogs are around, they break the isolation.”

Last year 13 crisis teams were at NIU for more than a week in common areas and resident halls, Ehlers said.

The 11 teams have been at NIU since Feb. 10 and will remain until Feb. 17.

“I’m glad they’re still around,” Drott said.

In order to become a crisis team, Barker and Domino went through 40 hours of training. Crisis dogs have to have basic obedience and cannot be aggressive toward people or other dogs, Barker said.

Teams from AACR were called by the American Red Cross to offer comfort and emotional support in New York after 9/11 and at Virginia Tech in April 2007. Teams are trained in animal behavior and critical incident stress management Ehlers said.