JOLIET, ILL., SEPT. 2 -- The families and classmates of eight student nurses brutally slain 21 years ago pleaded today with parole officials to keep mass murderer Richard Speck in prison for the rest of his life.

"The parole of Richard Speck would devalue life, since he {took} the lives of eight individuals who became nurses because they valued and loved the lives of others," said Ellen Stannish, who spoke for 24 classmates during a crowded hearing at Stateville Correction Center here.

Stannish told parole officials that she and her classmates have lived with "fear, shock, loss and sorrow" every day since July 13, 1966, when the eight student nurses were stabbed and strangled in a town house near South Chicago Community Hospital.

Today was the fifth time Speck, serving eight consecutive 50- to 150-year sentences, has been up for parole before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. But it was the first time Speck had sought parole.

The prospect set off a wave of protests, including more than 3,900 letters. "That scared all of us," said Lena Wilkening, mother of one of the slain students. "Once he would get out, you know, a maniac like that, a mass murderer, would always kill somebody."

Wilkening said she and her husband, John, have attended each of Speck's parole hearings and will do so "as long as we live and he lives."

"You can't punish him enough because he snuffed out eight lives and murdered five of their parents. The stress and strain killed them," said Joe Matusek, father of another victim.

Today was also the first time any of the victims' classmates testifed before the three-member parole panel, although the small, close-knit class, which celebrated its 20th reunion this week, has gathered regularly over the last two decades.

"The families are getting older, and we wanted to keep this movement active," said Stannish, who lives in Sarasota, Fla., adding, "We'll keep coming back as long as we have to."

"This has been a very painful, difficult thing for us all to live with," classmate Karen Pieroni said in an interview. "We will never be completely emotionally healed. It has changed all our lives."

Speck was not at the hearing. He had signed a form letter waiving his right to be present.

Gayle Shines, an assistant Cook County state's attorney, showed the panel photographs of the bodies of the eight murdered young women, whom Speck trapped in a town house on Chicago's South Side. The nurses were bound and gagged with strips of cloth torn from a bed sheet, then taken, one by one, into a separate room where they were stabbed or stangled.

"They went like lambs to a slaughter . . . . You can see why this was called the 'Crime of the Century,' " Shines said.

A ninth nurse, Corazon Amurao, a Philippine exchange student, survived by rolling, undetected, under a bunk bed.

Speck, then a 24-year-old drifter with a history of drug and alcohol problems, slashed his wrist at a Skid Row rooming house several days after the murders. He was arrested at Cook County Hospital when a doctor recognized a tattoo Amurao had described to police.

"Born to raise hell," the tattoo said.

Speck originally was sentenced to die in the electric chair but had to be resentenced after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972.

Shines urged the panel to refuse Speck parole. "A parole is a matter of clemency and grace, not a right," she said, adding, "We say that Speck already is in the only place he should be, besides his own grave."

The panel will make a recommendation to the entire, 10-member board. A decision is expected next Wednesday.