DeKALB – Kathy Buettner was the last to leave.
Dressed in a long black coat, she lingered near the memorial outside of Cole Hall on the campus of Northern Illinois University last Thursday. Unlike the hundreds of NIU students, faculty and friends who had passed by the memorial in a silent but steady stream, she took her time.
In deep, reflective silence, Buettner, NIU’s vice president of university relations, spent several moments before every one of the five granite markers, each honoring a student she never met.
“I feel I’ve gotten to know them over the years,” she said quietly. “We’re all a part of the community.”
Much of that community turned out for the memorial service marking the fifth anniversary of the deadly shooting that took place at 3:05 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2008. Five students were killed and 21 wounded when a former student opened fire during an introductory geology class inside Cole Hall before turning the gun on himself.
As bells sounded at the appropriate hour, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and retiring NIU President John Peters led a procession of the victims’ families and friends from Neptune Hall over a walking bridge to the memorial site. At the entrance, each family was presented with flowers and wreaths which they laid before the granite block bearing their loved one’s name.
As the large crowd settled around them, Quinn and Peters delivered eloquent speeches on loss, the victims and the need to move forward.
“God gave them not a long chronological life, but he gave each a purposeful life,” Quinn told the audience.
“Almost no undergraduate student currently enrolled at Northern experienced firsthand the terrible tragedy of five years ago,” Peters said in his address. “However, while they may not realize it, today’s students are touched by the presence of those five each and every day.”
Peters closed his remarks by reminding the crowd of the lessons learned from that tragic afternoon. “We must learn to cherish one another, because tomorrow is not promised to any of us.”
Following the program, the two men silently led a final procession past the memorials.
After being shut down for years after the shooting, Cole Hall reopened last year with a new anthropology museum, a high-tech classroom and a 351-seat auditorium.