Events include prayers, processional, song and support
AURORA – U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, first took office as a congressman in March 2008, about a month after the Feb. 14 shooting at Northern Illinois University's Cole Hall, where five students died.
On Sunday, Foster attended a vigil in front of the Henry Pratt Co. warehouse in Aurora, where five employees were killed Friday by fellow employee Gary Montez Martin, 45, of Aurora after he was fired by the company.
"We've been at this for more than 10 years, and I can't honestly say we've made a whole lot of progress on gun violence," Foster said. "You are always looking for the straw that will break the camel's back and fix this situation in our country, and it never seems to happen, no matter how many of these we have."
He was grateful to see support for the families from hundreds of people who attended the rally.
"I think it's important for the whole community to come together and show emotion," Foster said, his voice trembling. "I don't know what you say to the little children of the families. It shouldn't be like this."
Among those killed 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 in the human resources department at Mueller Water Products – the parent company of Henry Pratt Co. – when he was included in a meeting Friday at which Martin was being fired.
Also killed were Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, who was the human resources manager at Henry Pratt; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, a mold operator at Henry Pratt; Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego, a stock room attendant and fork lift operator at Henry Pratt; and Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, Henry Pratt plant manager.
The vigil was hosted by the Aurora Prayer Coalition, area churches and Greg Zanis' Crosses for Losses organization, with support from the city of Aurora. Zanis made five crosses for the Henry Pratt victims that now are adorned with flowers brought by those attending Sunday's vigil.
For years, Zanis, a retired carpenter, has been traveling the country delivering his handmade crosses after mass shootings.
But for Zanis, who lives in Aurora, this tragedy hit home.
"Now I'm beginning to see what it's like to have it happen in my own town," he said. "It's devastating. It's like somebody knocked the air out of me."
He started building crosses after finding his father-in-law shot in the head in Aurora in 1996.
"It brings it all back," he said. "When's this violence going to stop in my town? When you take one life, that's one life too many."
During a prayer, the Rev. Dan Haas asked God to help heal the community.
"We are brokenhearted over what has happened in this community, what's happened to these individuals who have been murdered," he said. "Today, Lord, begin a process of healing in all of our lives, that we commit ourselves to living lives of peace and love."
Among those attending the vigil were Jim and Amy Laughead of North Aurora.
"You have to come here and show your support in the bad times," Jim Laughead said.
Jim Laughead said he hopes the support for these families won't go away after the headlines have faded.
"Two years from now, five years from now, these people will still need help for emotional stress and mental issues from dealing with a traumatic incident like this," he said. "It can't just be for today. It's the life we now live."
Amy Laughead agreed.
"This is a horrific thing that happened," she said. "Why wouldn't you come to something like this, to show support for the families that have lost their loved ones?"
A second gathering was held in front of the warehouse, 401 S. Highland Ave., Sunday evening in honor of the five officers injured during the attack.
The cold and snow didn't stop dozens of residents from offering prayers and songs to the officers. Five white crosses bearing the names of the five men killed were set up behind the vigil's organizers and speakers.
“Each cross represents a person who would have said ‘thank you’ to the police officers if they were here,” said local activist Jose Luis Del Bosque, president of the Stand and March organization.
Del Bosque helped organize the “Aurora Strong” vigil.
“When they were called, they responded without hesitation,” he said. “And we all know that’s why so many lives were saved. … This is what the men in blue do. This is the weather they work in. This is why we’re here to thank them.”
After prayers and letters were read by people affected by gun violence in recent years, attendees marched to the Aurora Police Department, 1200 E. Indian Trail Road, where they hoisted a large blue banner signed by those in attendance in honor of the first responders.
The five white crosses also were taken there.
“Everyone who goes to the police station can sign and give their thanks to our officers,” Del Bosque said. “Hopefully, [the banner] gets filled up. It’s 7 yards by length.”
Barbara Hernandez offered a statement on behalf of state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora.
"I want to thank our first responders for their bravery and immense dedication to Aurora," she read. "I cannot fathom the outcome of such a tragic event without your courage and selflessness."
• Shaw Media reporter Daniel Gaitan contributed to this story.