ELMHURST, Illinois (CNS) – The mother of a 20-year-old college student shot and killed on the campus of Northern Illinois University on February 14 told an ecumenical gathering in Elmhurst that faith will guide the community in coping with the tragedy. "My strength is in the Lord, even though I’m going to miss a wonderful son," Linda Greer said during an ecumenical prayer service Feb. 15 at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church.
Her son, Dan Parmenter, was one of five students killed by gunman Stephen Kazmierczak while they were attending classes at the university in DeKalb; 16 students were injured.
The other students who died were Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream, Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero, Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota, and Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville. Both Garcia and Gehant were Catholics.
Kazmierczak, who grew up in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village, committed suicide immediately after the killing spree.
After the service, Greer addressed members of the press and continued to express how her faith is providing a beacon of light in a void of darkness.
"Because I know that so many people are praying for us and are holding us up, there is hope for the future. Evil is not going to overcome good in this world when there are people of God praying," she told reporters.
Hands were folded, heads were bowed and eyes were moist with tears during the service arranged and led by the Rev. Cliff Lyda, pastor, and the Rev. H Scott Matheney, chaplain at nearby Elmhurst College in Chicago’s western suburbs. The college is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
Rev. Matheney noted that the college "has many layers and relationships" with Northern Illinois University. He was clearly affected by the tragedy that took place at a campus just an hour away.
As he offered prayers and words of comfort, he wiped away tears from his cheeks.
Rev. Matheney also offered practical advice in coping with the heartbreak. He encouraged the grieving community members to correspond with the loved ones’ victims. He also urged them to reconnect with the special people in their own lives.
"Reach out and touch the key people in your life," he said.
The congregation sat in stillness, praying and pondering as a grieving community.
"The silence is very honoring of the victims and indicative that words are just not there," said Rev. Lyda. "And it will take some time to know where to find God in all of this."
"Those of us who believe in God are called upon to believe in those things we cannot see. Without that, fear will take over our lives," he added.
The service concluded with the congregants holding hands and reciting prayers. Then, attendees gathered around Greer to offer their condolences.
Elmhurst College planned to host an afternoon prayer service Feb. 21. Campus ministers at Northern Illinois University scheduled their own prayer service the same day to mark a week since the shootings occurred.
Prayer is essential in such a tragic situation, said Father Addison Hart, who is associate pastor of the Newman Center and Christ the Teacher University Parish at Northern Illinois University.
He made the comments in a February 15 telephone interview with The Catholic Explorer, newspaper of the Joliet Diocese, a neighboring diocese to the Rockford Diocese, where the university is located.
Students, staff and members of the community were attending services at the university parish in the tragedy’s aftermath. Meanwhile, the center’s priests and other clergy from the Rockford Diocese were ministering at the hospitals, at vigils and on the campus.
At one of the hospitals where injured students were taken, Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, four chaplains were on hand to treat emotional wounds, as medical personnel tended to the physical injuries.
An impromptu prayer service was held in the hospital’s chapel.
The Rev. Anna Lee Hisey-Pierson, a Church of the Brethren minister and staff chaplain, told the Explorer that the typical shift of two chaplains was doubled at one point to deal with the additional needs of the families and staff as two patients went into surgery.
In times of trauma, she said, "sometimes we need to calm patients, sometimes we need to calm families. But we definitely always support families and journey with them throughout the process."
Ministers "want to show how faith can embrace a terrifically painful situation," said Father Hart. He pointed out that Jesus carried his own cross as an example of how faith can sustain a person in a horrendous situation.
"We can transcend this. We just have to deal with the messiness of reality," the priest added.
He said students were moving from a stage of shock to grief as funerals were being held for the shooting victims.