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Suburban churches mourn their own
By Steve Zalusky and Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff

Isidro Acosta of Cicero prays during a Mass in memory of slain Northern Illinois University student Catalina Garcia, 20, at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church in Cicero on Sunday.


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"What a loving, humble and generous guy he was," the Rev. Daniel Meyer said of Dan Parmenter, a member of Christ Church of Oak Brook who died Thursday at Northern Illinois University. "He gave himself away in volunteer services."


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Published: 2/17/2008 2:45 PM | Updated: 2/18/2008 12:03 AM

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Christ Church of Oak Brook has felt the impact of a national tragedy before.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Associate Pastor Jeff Mladenik died when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Now the church is grieving the death of 20-year-old Dan Parmenter, shot to death Thursday at Northern Illinois University.

"When tragedies like this happen, it demonstrates the need for God's saving grace in our lives," said the Rev. Daniel Meyer, senior pastor of the church.

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Worshipers throughout the suburbs Sunday looked to religious leaders for comfort and guidance in the wake of the tragedy that left six dead, including the gunman, and injured more than a dozen others.

At congregations like Christ Church, Greater Westland Ministry of the Chicago Church of Christ in Wheaton and Baker United Memorial United Methodist church in St. Charles, the pain was particularly severe as faithful mourned the loss of their own church community.

"The outpouring of sympathy from hundreds and thousands of friends and friends of friends is just enormous, and that's a tribute to the integrity of Dan," said Gary Parmenter, Dan's father. "We just appreciate all of the sympathy that everyone is expressing and sending to us from all walks of life."

Dan Parmenter went through confirmation at Christ Church and attended Sunday school with many close friends from York High School. He participated twice in Project Serve, a day of service.

Parmenter's father said the family has learned about Dan's last moments by talking to survivors of Thursday's tragedy.

"We learned that at the time (of the shooting), the kids ducked behind the chairs to protect themselves. … Dan started praying for them. We have learned that from one of the girls that's still in critical condition."

When he received the call Thursday, Gary Parmenter said he knew there was bad news for the family.

"I was just hoping it was minimal and not worse. But it was worse," he said.

In Wheaton, members of the Greater Westland Ministry of the Chicago Church of Christ also gathered to heal and reaffirm their faith after one of their flock left this world too early.

"Gayle Dubowski was a part of our family," church elder Jeff Balsom said about the 20-year-old Carol Stream woman. "This is a very difficult Sunday for us. There is great loss and great pain."

More than 400 people attended the service, held in the Wheaton-Warrenville South auditorium.

Other victims of last week's shooting are Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero; Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota; and Ryanne E. Mace, 19, of Carpentersville.

Dubowski, a 2006 Glenbard North High School graduate, was active in the church and its choir. Balsom said he had no doubt Dubowski is now singing with God's angels.

"Gayle lives today. She lives with God in heaven and has never died," Balsom said.

Kurt Ammons, a youth minister, delivered a sermon about pride, humility and knowing that our time in this world is brief. True salvation and eternal life comes to those who believe in Jesus, and Dubowski showed her faith in her life and actions, he said.

A memorial service for Dubowski is planned for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Glenbard North High School, 990 Kuhn Road. For more information, visit

Balsom said Dubowski's parents, Joe and Laurel, and her brother Ryan have received an outpouring of well wishes and condolences from church members and the community. More than 50 people went to their house Friday to offer support.

"They feel the love that has been expressed by everyone," said Balsom, politely asking church members give the family some space while their relatives arrive from out of town.

In St. Charles, sadness befell the Baker United Memorial United Methodist Church when worshipers took a moment to remember Ryanne E. Mace. While Mace was not a member of United Memorial, she is related to Jim Best, the director of youth ministries at the church.

Senior pastor the Rev. Ronni Verboom said she was saddened by the death of someone close to the ministry and prayed to God to give them words of guidance to help ease the pain.

"The tragedy got a little closer for all of us, and we all share that burden," she said. "Thank you, Lord, for giving us the strength and guidance to help us through this time of darkness."