Northern Illinois University students returned to campus Monday ready to get on with their semesters, even as the deadly shooting rampage of 10 days ago weighed heavily on their minds.
"It's going to be a 'lean on you' type of day, 'I'm here for you' day," said Jonathan Brock, a 25-year-old industrial management major from Chicago.
Students wearing red lapel pins in honor of their school colors returned to lectures and labs Monday as classes began for the first times since the Feb. 14 shootings, in which former NIU graduate student Steve Kazmierczak opened fire on students _ killing five and wounding 16 _ before committing suicide.
Brock looked for a spot to write his thoughts on one of at least 10 large message boards set up on the campus, each crammed with condolences and words of encouragement since the shootings.
'You've got to move on'
But even as he gazed on the memorials, Brock said he was ready to try to get back to a normal routine. "You've got to move on," he said.
Not that Monday, or the days to come, were expected to be normal.
"I don't think it's going to happen this semester for a lot of people," said Dan Beno, a 20-year-old biology major from Beach Park.
NIU senior Kristen Bortolotti said the memories could be the biggest roadblock.
"It's not necessarily that we're scared that there's going to be someone with a gun," said the 24-year-old from Elgin. "It's the memories of what we saw."
University President John G. Peters said a Sunday night memorial at the school's Convocation Center _ attended by more than 12,000 people _ marked the end of the NIU community's mourning period. He said he's talked to students and they say they're ready to move on together.
"They do need each other, and they do want each other," Peters said early Monday.
Faculty still didn't quite know what to expect, but said they were prepared for the students to continue to grieve, with hundreds of volunteer counselors available in each classroom at the school, which has an enrollment of about 25,000.
Assistant marketing professor Kim Judson said she didn't expect there to be much discussion of marketing Monday.
"I want to give students a chance to talk," she said.
Victim to be released from hospital
One of most seriously wounded students, Maria Ruiz-Santana, was to be released Monday from a hospital in Downers Grove, doctors said. More than 20 pellets from a single shotgun blast hit her in the chest, head and neck, and she underwent five hours of surgery, they said at a news conference with her father, Alfredo Ruiz.
The 20-year-old Ruiz, a criminology major, is more resolved than ever to go into law enforcement and isn't angry at her shooter, her father said.
"She feels sorry for this guy," Ruiz said.
At Sunday night's memorial, five bouquets of red and white flowers were placed on the Convocation Center stage Sunday night in honor of the students killed. Outside the arena, school officials posted a large banner reading, "Forward, together forward."
Plans for a permanent memorial for the victims are still in their infancy. Crime scene tape still circled the scene of the shooting, Cole Hall, on Monday; the building will be closed for the rest of the semester.