NORMAL — The news of Osama bin Laden's slaying triggered an impromptu celebration and parade on the Illinois State University campus early Monday.
About one thousand ISU students took a study break ahead of final exam week to hail bin Laden's death, chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A" as they marched between residence hall complexes with additional stops on the quad and between the Bone Student Center and Milner Library.
"It's a significant day in history because Osama is gone," said McKenzie Marks, a freshman from Joliet. "It's a relief to all the victims of 9/11; they finally have closure knowing that he's gone."
President Barack Obama said Sunday the al-Qaida leader was killed during a shootout with U.S. forces in Pakistan.
Several students in the ISU parade carried American flags, while several more sang songs ranging from "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" to "American Pie" and even the "ole, ole" soccer chant. Some blared horns or lit firecrackers.
Many students used personal electronic devices — cell phones, digital cameras, even laptops — to capture evidence of their participation.
"I can look back in 10 years and say I was here celebrating with my fellow students," said Maggie Singraber, a senior from Oak Forest. "We love America and we're really proud of what everybody's done over there."
Almost all of those in the crowd were in grade school during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks orchestrated by bin Laden. Mike Yurchak, a seventh-grader at the time, reflected on the impact of the attacks.
"We knew right away that was a life-changing moment with the U.S," said Yurchak, a junior from Willowbrook. "Something happening like this today with President Obama telling everyone what happened is life-changing for sure."
ISU and Normal police monitored the crowd to make sure the students remained peaceful and safe. The advancing crowd caused brief closures of College and Fell avenues as well as Main and Mulberry streets. Police reported no major incidents.
"We're really happy it was a peaceful gathering," said freshman Eric Ferguson, one of several students taking partial credit for initiating the parade. "Other than people walking in the street ... nobody tried to burn anything down, nobody's stealing, nobody's looting.
"I think we're really thankful that we're at a place that lets us do this. They're allowing us to speak our voices. Because they let us, it's just a peaceful demonstration that we love our country."
The gathering gained momentum shortly after midnight as it moved across the pedestrian bridge over College Ave. to the quad. From there it went south to Hamilton Hall then north on Main St., passing between the stadiums on its way to Tri-Towers.
Adding revelers at each stop, the crowd doubled back through the tunnel under the Main-College intersection on its way to the front of Watterson Towers, where it swelled to its largest size.
"I'm amazed. I didn't know this many people were going to come out," said Marks, who with her friend Nina Easterling joined the parade outside Hamilton. "I'm really excited that all these people came out to support their country."
After another trek through the quad, the group moved back over College toward the library. At 1:15 a.m., an attempt to storm Milner was thwarted by library staff.
The crowd then headed west on College back toward Hancock Stadium, where an effort to rush the field was also quashed. After chants of "come outside" to those still in Haynie Hall at 1:40 a.m., the mob gradually dissipated.
"Everyone's got hope now," said Singraber. "We're at a time where a lot of people are down and this is kind of like the boost we needed to bring us back."