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A decade later: Families reflect on loved ones killed in 2008 NIU shooting

Former Carpentersville man remembers daughter with photo project

DeKALB – On the 14th of every month, Eric Mace takes a photograph.

Some months it’s difficult to summon the motivation, and some months he looks forward to it. But on the 14th, he takes a picture.

“That way, I will remember what was going on and how I was feeling,” Mace said. “I am an engineer by trade, so I wanted data.”

Mace is the father of Ryanne Mace of Carpentersville, who was killed Feb. 14, 2008, after a gunman opened fire during an oceanography class at Northern Illinois University’s Cole Hall.

The shooting left five students dead and 17 wounded before the shooter killed himself. The university holds annual vigils and campuswide events in remembrance of the victims and their families.

Although Eric Mace and his wife, Mary Kay Mace, typically will make the three-hour drive from their home in Petersburg to DeKalb for the events, he needed to have a ritual of his own.

The photo project – initially called the 14th project and now called Postcards to Ryanne – is a way for Eric Mace to slowly grapple with his grief.

“I don’t care if it’s a good picture,” he said. “I just need to go take it. You can’t look through the viewfinder when you are crying. So you have to learn to put that away for a thousandth of a second. Then a second. Then you build up from that.”

The name, Postcards for Ryanne, came about because when Ryanne Mace was a child, she loved when her dad would bring her postcards when he came home from various business trips, Eric Mace said.

“One day I realized,” he said, “for years, on the 14th of the month, I have been getting her postcards.”

Eric Mace said that although he doesn’t dwell on the violence that ripped his daughter away from the world, he thinks about her daily.

Ryanne Mace was a responsible, smart, funny and incredibly empathetic person, her father said.

The 19-year-old never hesitated to take the time to help her friends, and she wanted to become a psychologist. She is honored with the Ryanne Mace Memorial Scholarship Fund through NIU’s psychology department.

“There are a million scholarships for people with stellar grades and for people who need assistance,” Eric Mace said. “But there’s not a lot for that middle 80 percent. … I wanted professors to pick out a person who emulated the qualities we saw in Ryanne. It’s become a lot more well-endowed than I ever expected.”

Two other victims of the shooting, Julianna Gehant and Daniel Parmenter, also are honored with individual scholarships. The Forward, Together Forward Scholarship Endowment honors all five victims – Ryanne Mace, Gehant, Parmenter, Catalina Garcia and Gayle Dubowski.

NIU will hold its annual remembrance and wreath-laying ceremony at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the reflection garden at Cole Hall. A tolling of the bells will take place at 3:06 p.m.

The events are aimed to allow people a space to honor the victims and the tragedy’s place in the college’s history, as well as reflect on the resiliency of the community, said dean of students Kelly Wesener Michael, who also serves as associate vice president for student affairs.

“The events have provided a lot of different opportunities, and people have participated in ways they felt meaningful to them,” Michael said. “We want to make sure we honor those we lost, and that the families and students impacted know they are forever part of the Huskie family.”

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