Hundreds mourn in Aurora: 'There are a lot of people that are hurting'
Initial reports of Friday's mass shooting at Henry Pratt Co. seemed surreal to Sue Atwood, an Aurora native whose father once worked at the manufacturing facility.
Devastation set in when she learned that her daughter's friend and former classmate was one of the five employees killed.
Atwood, who now lives in Sheridan, Illinois, wanted to do whatever she could to honor the memory of 21-year-old Trevor Wehner, a Northern Illinois University student fatally shot on the first day of his internship.
So on Sunday, she stood among the hundreds of mourners gathering for a prayer vigil outside Henry Pratt and handed out dozens of candles that she had individually tied with a purple ribbon. She hoped the gesture would symbolize peace.
"There are a lot of people that are hurting," Atwood said. "There's going to be a hole in a lot of people's hearts."
Atwood's candles could be found among the flowers, balloons and photos placed near five white crosses at the center of the crowd, where local faith leaders offered prayers for the victims and their families, the five police officers who were injured, and the employees who survived.
Friday's tragedy shook the community and led to pain for family members, city leaders, company employees and first responders, said Dan Haas, an Aurora-area pastor for 40 years. The prayer vigil held Sunday afternoon aimed to offer peace and comfort to those who are suffering, he said.
"We are brokenhearted over what has happened to this community, what's happened to these individuals who have been murdered," Haas said. "Today begins a process of healing in all of our lives."
Mayor Richard Irvin offered support to the families of the victims, saying, "I open my heart and the city to you."
"Just to simply offer condolences is not enough. It doesn't measure the amount of pain that we feel for the loss that we've experienced here in this community," Irvin said. "Now is a time to heal. Now is a time to forgive. Now is a time to move together as a stronger community - stronger because we recognize we are in this together."
Clergy said individual prayers for each of the employees who had been killed: Trevor Wehner, 21, of DeKalb; Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin; Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville; and Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego.
Chaplain Ed Doepel, who was with officers the night of the shooting, also prayed for the wounded police officers.
"Today we honor these five officers for risking their lives for their fellow citizens and were injured in the process," he said. "We also lift up all first responders and other personnel who risked their lives as they rushed into harm's way. Some were injured physically, but so many were wounded emotionally and psychologically."
A smaller crowd gathered later Sunday for a second vigil, followed by a procession in which five replica crosses were carried from Henry Pratt to the Aurora police station. The gathering featuring live music, prayer and guest speakers, including Lauren Carr, a survivor of the 2008 mass shooting at NIU, and Mary Kay Mace, whose daughter, Ryanne, was among five who were shot to death when a gunman opened fire in a lecture hall.
Thursday marked the 11th anniversary of the NIU shooting. When Carr heard of the Aurora shooting just one day later, her first thought was, "Not again," she said. "Eleven years have gone by, and it's still happening."
Carr and Mace offered their support and understanding to the families of the Aurora victims, saying they've been in their shoes and can understand their heartache.
"We want to help Aurora find any way they can to move forward," Carr said.
Visiting the makeshift memorial site with flowers in hand, Mario Martinez of Aurora said he and his family are struggling to process the death of his cousin, Vicente Juarez.
"We're trying to stay strong. It's just so crazy and surprising," he said. "(Juarez) was just a fun, goofy guy, always the life of the party. It's just unbelievable."
The shooting hit close to home for Aurora resident Tom Carter, whose first job was at Henry Pratt in the 1970s. He also knows one of the injured police officers.
"I came just to be part of the grieving process. It's hard to understand how someone can take this kind of action because they've been let go from a job," he said. "I think it's important for us to mourn with them and show support."
Lifelong Aurora resident Elena Perez, 26, lives two blocks away from the Henry Pratt building. She was outside Friday when police started warning of an active shooter in the area. At Sunday's vigil, she passed out flowers to family members of the victims.
"I did it so they know their loved ones are with them today," she said. "As a community, we all need to come together and support each other."