News Local/State

Hundreds Attend Vigil For Aurora Shooting Victims

People praying at the Pratt Co. in Aurora Sunday to cleanse the site of the "defilement" of Friday's mass shooting.

People praying at the Pratt Co. in Aurora Sunday to cleanse the site of the "defilement" of Friday's mass shooting. Guy Stephens/WNIJ

Hundreds of people braved a freezing rain in Aurora on Sunday to pray for the victims of Friday’s mass shooting at a manufacturing plant.

Next to crosses bearing the victims’ names, pastors from several faith groups offered prayers for them, their families and the community.

The vigil was organized by the Aurora Prayer Coalition and was held outside the Henry Pratt Co., the site of the mass shooting. Many attendees joined in the prayers. They also hugged each other in a ceremony marked by sorrow, but also gratitude.

That was true of Jo Gordon. Pratt employee Vicente Juarez was among the slain. He was the uncle of a close friend of her granddaughter. “Such a shame to see lives wasted,” said Gordon. “We just thank all the people that are coming out to be thoughtful, just to be there for us.” 

Sarah Rowald is a lifelong resident and teacher in the West Aurora School District. A couple of her kids’ parents are police officers. She said there was a lot of anxiety that afternoon as everyone tried to find out what had happened - and to whom. She said she was heartened by the turnout at the vigil: “ I just think it speaks to the fact that, even though we are a large city – we’re the second largest city in Illinois – that we are a united community, and what hurts some of us hurts all of us.”

Five people were shot to death Friday afternoon by co-worker Gary Martin, who had learned he was being fired after 15 years at the job. Another employee was shot and injured. Martin also shot and injured five police officers who responded to calls for help from other Pratt employees. Martin was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police inside the warehouse about an hour later.

Police identified the workers who were killed as human resources manager and Northern Illinois University alumnus Clayton Parks of Elgin; plant manager Josh Pinkard of Oswego; mold operator Russell Beyer of Yorkville; stock room attendant and fork lift operator Vicente Juarez of Oswego; and human resources intern and Northern Illinois University student Trevor Wehner, who lived in DeKalb and grew up in Sheridan.

None of the officers’ injuries were life-threatening, according to Aurora police chief Kristen Ziman. An employee who was also shot is recovering in a hospital.

Rev. Dan Haas of the Aurora Prayer Coalition at Sunday's vigil at Pratt Co.

Photo Credit: Guy Stephens/WNIJ

Ziman says Martin, 45, had been arrested six times of the years in Aurora for “traffic and domestic battery-related issues” and for violating an order of protection. Ziman also said Martin’s 1995 felony conviction for aggravated assault in Mississippi should have prevented him from owning his gun.

He bought the Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handgun on March 11, 2014, because he was issued a firearm owner's identification card two months earlier after passing an initial background check. It wasn't until he applied for a concealed carry permit five days after buying the gun and went through a more rigorous background check using digital fingerprinting that his Mississippi conviction was flagged and his firearm owner's ID car was revoked. Once his card was revoked, he could no longer legally have a gun.

Scott Hall, president and CEO of Mueller Water Products Inc., which owns Henry Pratt, confirmed Martin was being fired Friday “for a culmination of various workplace rules violations." He gave no details of the violations by Martin at the plant that makes valves for industrial purposes.

Additional information from Associated Press.