Shooting victim was living out her call, family says

February 21, 2008

By Paul Black*

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (UMNS) A top student with top grades at Northern Illinois University, 19-year-old Ryanne Mace was always interested in helping people. She was living out her sense of call, working at the local Elder-Beerman department store and studying to become a psychologist/case worker at the school’s campus in DeKalb, Illinois. Just before Valentine’s Day, according to a news report, she posted a message to her friends on her MySpace page: “Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody! ... Saying you love someone is not enough, it’s how you treat them that shows your true feelings.”

 

The sophomore from Carpentersville, Illinois, was one of five students killed February 14 in Cole Hall Auditorium as she attended a geology class. She was the granddaughter of the Rev. Eugene and Sally Ann Mace of Washington, Ill., and the Rev. Miley and Janet Palmer of Decatur, Ill. Both pastors are retired United Methodist clergy members in the church’s Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.

 

Mace’s interests were diverse. She had an avid love of music and was an accomplished violinist and a choral singer. But family and friends said she most wanted to make a difference in her world.

 

“She would throw herself into a variety of things,” said the Rev. Miley Palmer. “She felt most fulfilled when she was helping others.”

 

Rev. Palmer spent part of his pastoral career in campus ministries, but said the tragedies at Northern Illinois and, last April, Virginia Tech – are a new phenomenon.

 

“Certainly, there have always been tragedies on campus, but the sniper syndrome is fairly new and it’s scary,” he said. “Unfortunately, it seems to overshadow the lives of college students, who seem to be returning to a time of idealism and asking the tough questions as to what are the anchors in life.”

 

Palmer retired in 1998 as pastor of Decatur Grace United Methodist Church after serving six years as a district superintendent and nine years as pastor of Urbana Wesley United Methodist Church and director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois. Rev. Mace retired in 1999 after 25 years with Methodist Medical Center in Peoria, the last 11 as director of pastoral care.

 

Call to prayer

Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher, who leads the Illinois Great Rivers Conference where Mace’s grandfathers served, called on the church to offer prayers on behalf of the family.

 

“I am horrified and saddened by the tragic and senseless death of Ryanne Mace, one so full of life with a promising future still ahead of her. During the coming days, I know you will join me in prayer for the families and friends touched by her death and blessed by her life,” Christopher said.

 

“I hope you will also join me in serious reflection about how we, the church, might contribute to the ending of the anger, rage, and violence in our society that has contributed not only to Ryanne’s death but the deaths of many – not only on the NIU campus but in [other] schools throughout our country,” the Bishop said.

 

Mace’s parents, Eric and Mary Kay Mace, began phoning on the evening of February 14 to check on their daughter’s safety after hearing about the campus shooting. The school’s cell phone tower had been shut down by the flurry of calls on campus. Later, the Maces reached their daughter’s roommate, who confirmed that she had a class in Cole Hall at the time of the shooting.

 

According to eyewitness reports, a gunman dressed in a black shirt, dark pants and black hat came out from behind a curtain in the auditorium shortly after 3 p.m. and opened fire, sending the 160 students screaming, running, and in many cases falling to the ground. In all, 21 people were injured with five killed before the shooter turned the gun on himself.

 

In addition to Mace, the victims were Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester; Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero; Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota; and Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream.

 

On Feb. 15, authorities identified the shooter as Stephen P. Kazmierczak of Champaign, a graduate student at the University of Illinois. Kazmierczak used a shotgun hidden in a guitar case and three handguns hidden under a coat, according to University Police Chief Donald Grady. Kazmierczak had been a student at Northern Illinois as late as the spring 2007 term and had received an undergraduate degree in sociology in 2006.

 

The Chicago Tribune reported that the school honored the gunman two years ago for his research on the U.S. prison system, which included a study of self-inflicted wounds among prisoners.

 

Comforting one another

Meanwhile in DeKalb, the director of the Wesley Foundation at Northern Illinois said no students involved in the campus ministry were among the dead or injured.

 

“Most of them have returned home to be with their families,” said the Rev. Efrain Avila Jr. “There have been and will continue to be professional counseling and spiritual guidance at each residence hall and academic building at Northern Illinois University. The Wesley Foundation at DeKalb will continue to be part of those efforts.”

 

Avila expressed thanks for prayers and messages of concern from throughout The United Methodist Church. He asked for continued prayers for the students, families, university staff and first responders.

 

Related news, including updates on help for families of those affected will be available at www.firstumc.net, the website for the First United Methodist Church of DeKalb/Wesley Foundation.

 

Funeral services for Ryanne Mace were on Monday, February 18 at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Charles. The guest book is available at http://www.legacy.com/Obituaries.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonId=103473835.

 

*Black is Director of Communications for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church. Susan Dal Porto, Director of Communications for the Northern Illinois Conference, contributed to this report.