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Columnist
Single gunshot on NIU campus rips open painful wounds
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/19/2010 5:01 PM

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The horror spawned on Valentine's Day two years ago by a deranged, murderous shooting spree on the campus of Northern Illinois University will never totally leave us.

Loved ones of the five students killed that day buried their children, their brothers and sisters, their friends and struggled to go on with life. The university mourned and determinedly resolved to move forward.

During Sunday's vigil to mark the sad anniversary, hundreds came together again in the Forward, Together, Forward Memorial Garden to lay wreaths and remember the victims and the lives that were taken from them. There were happy memories and hope, tears and pain.

Fear didn't arrive back on campus until Friday morning, when the university issued a "blast," a mass text message sent at 3:48 a.m. to 12,000 subscribers that proclaimed: "There has been a shooting."

The alert rang the cell phone of Patrick Korellis, 22, of Gurnee, a 2008 graduate of NIU who still has shotgun pellets in the back of his head and left arm from the 2008 shooting.

"It was a scary text to wake up to," says Korellis, who works as an analyst for the Warren Township Highway Department. "When I saw 'NIU Alert' that immediately woke me up out of my deep sleep."

He jumped on the computer and was connecting with old classmates and friends still on campus as he searched for news before 4 a.m.

"I didn't know if it was a gunman in a dorm. I didn't know if it was a rampage," Korellis says. "I'm frantically trying to find out what was going on."

NIU President John G. Peters said one student shot another student in the leg during an "altercation" outside a dorm on campus at 3:29 a.m. Police arrived 47 seconds later. The suspect was apprehended at 3:34. A gun was recovered. The victim was hospitalized for a wound that wasn't life-threatening. And the campus was open hours before most students were awake.

Peters called it "an isolated incident."

But there is no isolation when the words "shooting" and "NIU" appear in the same sentence.

"You can't believe you are hearing it," says Gary Parmenter, whose 20-year-old son Dan was one of the students killed in the 2008 massacre. The Westchester man says Friday's news gave him "a flashback."

"It brings back the disbelief and the wondering why," Parmenter says. "I certainly feel sorry for the parents of the student who was shot."

As Friday's news broke, worried parents phoned NIU students who hadn't already called home to assuage fears. TV helicopters shook the dorms as they hovered above the predawn scene. Counselors went into action. Peters addressed the media. All the fear and pain from 2008 popped to the surface.

"Every week when you hear about any gun violence, you can't believe it's still happening," says Parmenter, who now heads a suburban chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a not-for-profit support group that helps adults cope with the death of a child. He stressed that NIU officials can't be blamed for the violence.

"They are so responsive, so professional and so well-prepared," he says.

"Unfortunately," Peters says, "we have learned how to do this."

Korellis, who remains on the text-alert list, says he got a phone call from an NIU employee later on Friday.

"They check up on the students who were in the classroom that day to see how we are," Korellis says.

That instant and emotional link to violence is just something the NIU community has to live with, Korellis says. He says he flashed back to the day he was shot when he attended the Feb. 14 vigil, when he heard about the deadly Feb. 12 college shooting in Alabama and when his cell phone woke him Friday with news of another shooting an NIU.

"It has," Korellis concludes, "been a rough week."