AURORA – At 1:24 p.m. Feb. 15, 2019, the Aurora Police Department received a call about a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt company in Aurora.
“It was one of those surreal moments where I wasn’t quite sure what I was hearing over the radio,” Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman recounted Tuesday, Feb. 11, during a media briefing at the newly opened Henry Pratt Memorial Exhibit in the Aurora Art and History Center in downtown Aurora.
A year has passed since gunman Gary Martin, 45, of Aurora, shot and killed five of his co-workers at Henry Pratt on Feb. 15, 2019. Martin, who was told he was being fired before the shooting, later died in a shootout with police.
The exhibit features the five crosses for the Henry Pratt victims donated to the Aurora Historical Society, the memorabilia left at the factory gates by well-wishers and a selection of items sent to the Aurora Police Department from first responders around the U.S. as gestures of solidarity and sympathy.
“The hardest day of my life was having to stand in front of the families of these beautiful human beings that just went to work that morning and never came home,” Ziman said.
During the briefing, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin led a moment of silence for those killed in the shooting. Among those killed in the shooting was Sheridan native Trevor Wehner, 21. The DeKalb resident was a student at Northern Illinois University and a human resources intern at Henry Pratt.
Wehner had just begun working that day in the human resources department at Mueller Water Products, the parent company of Henry Pratt Co., when he was included in a meeting Feb. 15 in which Martin was being fired.
Also killed were Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, a 2014 NIU graduate who was the human resources manager; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, a mold operator and union chairman; Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego, a stock room attendant and forklift operator; and Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, the plant manager.
Irvin also honored the five Aurora police officers who were wounded in the shooting.
“No words can truly express to them our gratitude for putting themselves in harm’s way,” he said.
In the days after the shooting, the city adopted the phrase “Aurora Strong.” Irvin said the city remains strong today.
“Over the past year, we have worked collectively to turn hurt into hope and pain into progress,” he said. “This community has taken one of the darkest days in Aurora and found the ability to pull light out of that darkness. ... By the end of the day on Feb. 15, we had already become Aurora Strong. And that strength has continued to multiply over the year.”
He noted the community raised nearly $1.1 million to support those families affected by the tragedy.
“What I personally noticed is how our first responders simply wanted to put attention right back on the victims and their families,” Irvin said. “For instance, when money was raised for the Aurora Fire Department, firefighters donated tens of thousands of dollars right back to the Aurora Strong Community Fund.”
However, Ziman knows the tragedy could have been worse if it was not for the actions of those first responders who rushed to the scene.
“That day, I know lives were saved because of first responders,” she said. “I am so proud of the men and women of not only the Aurora Police Department but also of the Aurora Fire Department. This city should be very proud of first responders as well as those who worked behind the scenes, those telecom operators who were the glue that held it together. It seemed very chaotic and yet it was completely organized chaos because we had prepared for that moment.”