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She stood out at Morton East
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Catalina Garcia


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Published: 2/15/2008 4:59 PM | Updated: 2/16/2008 1:16 PM

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Catalina Garcia stood out among her peers. She had the potential to be a great teacher, even a great leader.

That's how Catalina Garcia's former high school teachers described her Friday after learning she died in the shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University.

Garcia, 20, of Cicero, was a 2006 graduate of Morton East High School. She was an advanced placement student, part of the high school track team, and a member of the "Mortonian" yearbook club and Audacity dance group.

"I couldn't believe it was Catalina," said Michael Parrie, Garcia's chemistry teacher her junior year. "This is very close to home. It was very shocking. I never would have expected it."

Parrie said Garcia excelled academically and wanted to be an elementary education teacher. Though she didn't like speaking in front of groups, she had strong interpersonal skills.

"She was very strong in science," he said. "She definitely stood out among her classmates. She definitely would have been a great future leader, a great teacher, and now we have lost that potential."

Though she was shy around teachers, Garcia was lively among her friends, said Sony Thevalakara, an American history teacher at Morton.

"She always made sure that her work was the best that she could possibly make it. She threw in colors. She threw in extra pictures. Whatever she could do to make her work stand out and be the best that it could be. She was very much looking forward to college," Thevalakara said.

Morton High School District 201 Superintendent Ben Nowakowski said crisis counseling teams have been set up to help students and staff cope.

"I thought there might be more knowledge about it, but quite frankly, because of the way the story has been unfolding, I don't think many people found out about it until mid-day," he said Friday.

School officials will observe a moment of silence Tuesday and present a memorial message about Garcia to the students. They may also plan a vigil in her memory.

"All her teachers thought highly of her," Nowakowski said. "She was one of those students that we like to say represented Morton High School District in a very positive way. This is a great tragedy to us. We will keep her in our memory probably for as long as Morton is here."

Garcia's three siblings, Jaime, Mayra and Joel, all Morton High School graduates, and her parents could not be reached for comment.

A Spanish language radio station, WOJO-FM, on Friday morning reported Garcia's father, Jacinto Garcia, saying, "She was adored by our family because she wanted to become somebody in life -- that's (for) what she was going to school."

Funeral services are pending.