The NIU shootings: THE VICTIMS
Five diverse paths converged in lecture hall
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One was a loyal fraternity brother, another an only child from a suburban family. One was a first-generation American, another a soldier returning for an education. A fifth was a quiet sophomore who liked to sing and listen to music.
They had different majors, interests, backgrounds and life experiences. But the five victims of Thursday’s rampage shared a common goal at Northern Illinois University — to improve themselves and stay close to home. In doing so, the group was the face of NIU’s student body: a cross-section of Chicagoland residents in search of an expedient and affordable path to a better life.
Their varied paths converged in the front rows of an introduction to oceanography lecture. Their shared dreams — and those of their families and friends — were shattered in the final minutes of class. As the instructor finished a presentation on the various types of sea rocks, former student Steven Kazmierczak mounted the stage and fatally shot five and wounded many more before taking his own life.
Friday morning, police confirmed the names of those slain: Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream; Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero; Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville; and Dan Parmenter, 20, of Elmhurst. Several more were still fighting for their lives.
After graduating from high school, Julianna Gehant set out to see the world and serve her country. She left Mendota, a town of 7,200 an hour outside of DeKalb, and joined the Army Corps of Engineers.
“There was just an energy about her, that she was going to do it no matter what,” said Kathy Conner, Gehant’s high school art teacher.
Over the next 12 years, Gehant worked as a military carpenter and traveled to far-flung places such as Bosnia and Laos. She built a school in Tonga and barracks wherever the armed forces needed them.
But as the Iraq war escalated, so did her family’s fears for her safety. They urged her to leave the Army and return to college, hoping student status would keep her away from war.
Gehant enrolled at NIU and expected to graduate next year. Relatives said she wanted to be a 2nd-grade teacher. “She was somebody we all looked up to,” sister Jen Gehant said.
Nothing mattered more to Catalina Garcia — or her parents — than getting an education. Immigrants Jacinto and Consuelo Garcia told their youngest daughter they had left their native Mexico and moved to Cicero for this very reason.
Known as “Cati” to her friends and family, she selected NIU because her older brother, Jaime, studied there and recommended it.
But Catalina had no major yet. Her family joked it was because she couldn’t bear to limit her options.
Garcia, the youngest of four children, talked about becoming an elementary school teacher and wanted to join a sorority, her brother Jaime Garcia said. She had recently gotten a job at the Latino Resource Center on campus and looked forward to mentoring Hispanic freshmen through the center.
But to her family, she was always the grinning little girl who liked to dance and listen to music.
“When we remember her we will remember her as a princess who enjoyed life,” Jaime Garcia said.
Garcia graduated from Cicero’s Morton East High School in 2006. An honor student, she ran track, worked on the yearbook staff and was a member of the modern dance team. She was quiet but had big ideas, said Lilia Contreras, who taught Garcia’s advance placement English class in 2006.
Through Cati, the Garcia family had been embraced in the United States. Her yearbook photo was featured on a page headlined “friendship.”
“They came here to give their children a better life,” said cousin Jesus Garcia. “They were living the American dream until this.”
Ryanne Mace, an only child, was an ace student who knitted baby jackets and blankets for fun. She made a favorite snack of Cheetos and cream cheese and, friends said, had a boyfriend who planned to move to the DeKalb area this summer.
Her family was crushed by her loss Thursday. Relatives gathered at the family’s home in Carpentersville. All looked like they were trying not to cry or had just finished.
“She was ten thousand times better than the best parts of each of us,” the family said in a statement later. “Our hearts are broken.”
Mace played violin, grew up in Carpentersville and graduated in 2006 from Dundee-Crown High School. She was a standout member of its French Club, which packed her off to college with a small scholarship, said high school principal Lynn McCarthy.
“She never wanted to miss a beat,” said Amy Schwartz, 19, of Algonquin, who shared a dorm room with Mace last year. “Every night she was writing papers or reading something.”
Gayle Dubowski loved the arts, be it singing soprano in the Glenbard North High School choir, acting in a musical, or doodling out cartoon characters that amazed her friends.
At Glenbard North, she was in the theater production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” made teachers smile, and befriended Ashley Mortensen of Carol Stream soon after they met two years ago.
“She went out of her way,” said Mortensen, a junior at Glenbard. “She was a really sweet and genuine person.”
Dubowski grew up at the end of a cul-de-sac of modest two-story homes not far from Glenbard North High School. A wooden sign hangs at the front door declaring the establishment of the Dubowski home in 1982. On Friday, young women shuttled cases of bottled water into the house.
Glenbard North Principal John Mensik said several teachers went home early Friday after learning of Dubowski’s death. Counselors were called to the school for seniors who knew her. Messages left on a Facebook memorial dedicated to Dubowski indicate a deep faith in God.
“She was so happy, open and serving,” wrote friend Laura Moss. “I know that she shone so brightly for God on that campus.”
Around noon on Thursday, Dan Parmenter phoned his mother, Linda Greer, to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day. A few hours later, she received a second, horrific phone call. This one informed her that her son, a hulking rugby player, had been killed on the DeKalb campus.
As his family now plans a funeral for a life that should have stretched decades, they find comfort in memories of touching gestures, of phone calls, of small acts of love and courage.
“You think about it,” said Parmenter’s stepfather, Bob Greer. “How many young men do that? But coming from him … it’s something he would do. He was sensitive and considerate, and he acted on those impulses.”
Parmenter grew from a sickly baby into an imposing 6-foot-5, 250-pound athlete. He attended York High School in Elmhurst, played football and impressed coaches with his team-oriented attitude. Parmenter, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha, held a part-time job as a stock boy at Pottery Barn in Oak Brook. He also worked as advertising rep for NIU’s student newspaper.
“You don’t have to look back on his life with regret,” his stepfather said. “He was such a nice person.”
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