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One by one, Dan Parmenter's mom, dad and sister each laid a rose at the base of the new autumn glaze maple tree planted in his memory Wednesday, on what would have been his 21st birthday.
The tree overlooks a scenic spot along the lagoon at Northern Illinois University, a short distance from where Parmenter's life was stolen Feb. 14 during the Cole Hall shooting rampage. Four other students also were killed.
The tree is a few hundred feet away from the tree recently planted in memory of another one of the students - Ryanne Mace, of Carpentersville. It was planted on what would have been her 20th birthday.
On Wednesday, a small group of Parmenter's family and friends huddled together under umbrellas alongside the lagoon to read poems, exchange hugs, swap stories and remember all of the things they loved about the kindhearted, football-playing, life-loving young man who grew up in Elmhurst.
"It is time to forgive, and to move on with our lives," Parmenter's mother Linda Greer said over the loud splatting sound of raindrops on the umbrellas. "As we go forward, we will always be remembering Dan."
While Greer has forgiven the man who killed her son, forgiveness is something some of Parmenter's family and friends still struggle with.
Dan's father, Gary Parmenter, says the tree planting is "another small step in the healing process" but he's not sure if he can completely forgive the gunman for ending his son's life for no reason.
"The blessing is, there are so many things people have done to honor Dan and keep his spirit alive through events like today, and week after week," he said. "That's how I'm drawing strength."
In the past eight months, as he's talked to other parents who have lost children, Gary Parmenter heard something that's helped him heal. It was a question: what if you made a deal with God on the day your child was born, and the deal was that you got him for 20 years, and after that, he went back to God. Would you make the deal?
"Of course you would," Gary Parmenter said. "But it's hard. It's still hard to accept. But I know Dan is with us every day."
Among those attending the private memorial service were Dan Parmenter's sister, Kristen, 23; his girlfriend, Lauren Debrauwere, whose life he saved by shielding her from the gunman; and about two dozen other friends from the Pi Kappa Alpha house, his dorm, and the Northern Star newspaper.
"It's important not to have anger about this, and to remember all the great memories, and how much better he's left us," said his childhood friend, Audrey Holmer, 20, of Elmhurst.
His friends also complimented the Parmenter family for the courageous way they've handled the tragedy.
"It's been uplifting to see the way they've been going through this," said Jason Garcia, 22, of Plainfield. "I can't even imagine."