NIU student with 'heart of gold' killed on first day at Aurora warehouse
Dean Prokos' family-owned restaurant became the safe haven for one of his delivery drivers in 2008 when the Northern Illinois University student fled a deadly shooting rampage inside his lecture hall and ran to the DeKalb fixture.
Eleven years later, Prokos and his employees at Tom and Jerry's restaurant again found themselves coping with tragedy this weekend after Trevor Wehner, also a delivery driver and NIU student, was fatally shot on the first day of his human resources internship, along with four other employees, at the Henry Pratt manufacturing warehouse in Aurora.
"He's one of my top employees," Prokos said. "We called him our big bear. He had a heart of gold, and everybody loved him. He cared about his job. He cared about his friends."
Wehner, a Sheridan, Illinois, native, was just three months away from graduation.
When he told his boss about the internship, Prokos thought Wehner, 21, would move on from his college job. Instead, Wehner "threw him for a loop" and told Prokos he was commuting to Aurora during the week and wanted to keep working at Tom and Jerry's on the weekends.
"He just started an internship, and he was excited about it," Prokos said Saturday. "And yesterday was his first day. He loved his job so much that he didn't want to give it up here, so he would commute to Aurora and then he was due to work here this morning, and unfortunately we found out the news late last night, and it's devastating."
Wehner had been working at the restaurant for a year and a half before the shooting. He earned the "big bear" nickname because of his athletic stature: standing over 6 feet tall.
"We have a staff of drivers that pretty much are all college kids that are trying to make a quick buck just to support their student activities," Prokos said. "He was a great athlete as well as a great employee. He was always on time. He was never late. He never complained."
In 2015, he graduated from Serena High School in LaSalle County as an honor student. He played soccer for three years and baseball and basketball for all four years of high school, his soccer coach and Serena Athletic Director Dean DeRango said.
"He will be remembered as a very special kid," DeRango said in an email. "He was towards the top of his class in grades and he was one of our better athletes at the time. He worked hard in his sports, and was the type of kid you could push to his limits. Just a fun kid to be around. He enjoyed joking around with his coaches and teammates."
Two years ago, he graduated from Illinois Valley Community College, receiving presidential honors, before heading to NIU. He made the dean's list there last fall semester. NIU President Lisa Freeman said in a statement Wehner was due to graduate in May with a degree in human resource management.
Prokos said Wehner had a longtime girlfriend and was looking forward to life after college.
"She thought he was going to go on to bigger and better things, and he said, 'No, I'm not going anywhere. I'm just going to go try and get a job so we can spend the rest of our lives together.' But here we are."
Prokos said NIU officials have extended their condolences to him and his staff. He's told many of his employees to take the day off as they mourn Wehner.
"We lost a good friend and family," he said.
He's still searching for the right words, but he does know he will write a tribute on the Tom and Jerry's marquee in honor of Wehner and all the victims of the Aurora shooting.
• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.