Mendota, Illinois, US
United States Army
SFC, US Army Corps of Engineers
Meriden, US, 02/14/2008
Julianna Gehant stood out among 400 college students that Betsy Smith works with as academic adviser for elementary education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
“She lit up a room. She was thrilled to finally be doing what she wanted to do. She was very nice, kind, and mature, and very smart,” Smith said Friday of Gehant, who was on the dean’s list for being a high academic achiever.
“The reason she was in that science class was she was taking it so she could be a better elementary schoolteacher,” Smith said, referring to the geology class where Gehant was shot and killed on Thursday by a lone gunman.
Gehant’s mother, Debra Gehant of Mendota, said another daughter, Jennifer, whom Julianna lived with in Meriden, called her Thursday afternoon to tell her she’d heard about a shooting at NIU. The family tried to reach Julianna, as did university officials, but she didn’t answer her cell phone. About 10 p.m., police called and asked for a description of Julianna, a 5-foot-tall, longhaired, blue-eyed, 32-year-old woman. Her family said she had a zest for life that included serving about 12 years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a carpenter whose job included building schools overseas.
After the call, the family traveled to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb, where Julianna had been taken by rescue staff.
Only once before did Julianna give her parents, Debra and Ed, a scare. She wasn’t able to call home for a few weeks during her service in Bosnia.
“I worried about her being in Bosnia,” Debra said in a phone interview Friday. “I didn’t worry about her sitting in a classroom.”
Julianna, a commuter student, was hardly one to sit around, though. One of her favorite things to do was watch “Dancing with the Stars” on TV with her mom. She liked it so much that she enrolled in a ballroom dancing class at NIU, where she started classes last year with the aim of getting a degree to teach young children.
Julianna enrolled in the service right after she graduated from Mendota High School in 1994, her mom said, recalling memories of her daughter in high school. One proud moment for Debra: when Julianna played a voodoo witch in a school play. Debra also said Julianna was in high school when her mother was impressed with her daughter’s artistic talents. Julianna found a picture of her mom when she was a baby, copied it, made a portrait of her mother and gave it to her as a Christmas gift.
“She was a wonderful woman, a go-getter, who knew what she wanted and went after it,” her mother said.