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Northern Illinois students support UCA after shooting

The University of Central Arkansas defeated Northwestern State in its first home game since a shooting on campus that killed two students. UCA had extra support Saturday from students from Northern Illinois University.
The University of Central Arkansas defeated Northwestern State in its first home game since a shooting on campus that killed two students. UCA had extra support Saturday from students from Northern Illinois University.

When the student body of Northern Illinois University heard and saw reports of the shooting at UCA they held a candlelight vigil two days later on October 28. But the support did not and will not stop there.

It’s not unusual to see purple clad students on UCA gameday. But several students in UCA hats and sweatshirts on the field are not students at the campus in Conway, Arkansas.

"It’s just to let everyone else know we are here for them and if they need anything we're here," says Eric July.

Eric July is part of Huskies United, a support group from Northern Illinois University.

"It's just a way for us to kind of extend our support to unfortunately a growing amount of people who are joining this unfortunate fraternity," July says.

A fraternity of campus violence.  Six NIU students died in a shooting on the DeKalb, Illinois campus in February.

"It's taken a long time, it's still not healed,” July says.  “I don't know when it will be healed.  People come to the counseling service to start counseling, even up to this month so I don't know."

Huskies United traveled in a caravan from the campus 60 miles west of Chicago over 11 hours to the UCA campus.

"They got here last night at 3am,” UCA student government president Drew Aylesworth says.  “We hung out with them until 5am.  We leave them to go to bed and we come back this morning and they've spent the whole night baking cookies for UCA students."

And they were all on the field before UCA game presenting Aylesworth with a signed banner from hundreds of NIU students.

"It’s to say ‘hey we're thinking about you. If you have any questions, we know what you're going through,’” July says.  “If you have any issues you can talk to us.  And it's important for them to know that, because sometimes they keep it silent, they don't want to say anything right away."

Words will come, but Aylesworth says actions mean just as much.

"Hopefully UCA will never have to pay it forward to another school but I think we will if it ever comes time," Aylesworth says.

Students from Virgina Tech showed the same support for NIU students after the shooting on that campus nine months ago.  All campus activities were cancelled following the shooting making Saturday’s game the first opportunity for the UCA campus to come together for a fun event.

A memorial fund for the two students killed, Chavares Block, 19 and Ryan Henderson, 18 is active at all First State Bank locations in Conway.  In addition UCA student government is purchasing black wrist bands bearing their names.  Aylesworth says the wristbands will go on sale soon with proceeds going to the memorial fund.
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