'Their families are now going to be part of our family': Aurora leaders offer support to victims' loved ones

  • Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman hugs Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall, while Aurora Fire Chief Gary Krienitz shakes hands with Naperville Fire Chief Mark Putkaitis, at a news conference Tuesday about the cities' response to the mass shooting Feb. 15 in Aurora. Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin looks on.

      Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman hugs Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall, while Aurora Fire Chief Gary Krienitz shakes hands with Naperville Fire Chief Mark Putkaitis, at a news conference Tuesday about the cities' response to the mass shooting Feb. 15 in Aurora. Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin looks on. Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

 
 

Meeting with the families of the five victims killed in Friday's mass shooting at an Aurora warehouse was one of the hardest things Police Chief Kristen Ziman has had to do.

Law enforcement officers did everything they could after a gunman opened fire in Henry Pratt Co., she said. But looking into the family members' eyes Monday and knowing their loved ones couldn't be saved is something that "weighs very heavily" on the hearts of responding officers.

"We still carry that with us," Ziman said during a media briefing Tuesday. "We are feeling an emptiness in this community because they are no longer with us. Their families are now going to be part of our family, and we are not going to forget them."

City leaders are doing everything they can to support the victims' families, as well as a sixth gunshot victim who survived, Mayor Richard Irvin said. He plans to attend all memorial services, starting Wednesday with the visitation for 21-year-old Trevor Wehner in Sheridan.

Services are scheduled Thursday and Friday for both 54-year-old Vicente Juarez of Oswego and Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville. A visitation will be held Saturday for Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin. Arrangements are still pending for Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego.

"We feel (the families') loss and hurt for the pain they are experiencing," Irvin said. "As a community, we will turn the pain into a brighter, stronger tomorrow."

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Donations from across the globe have been pouring into the Aurora Strong Community Fund, created Saturday to support the victims' families, Irvin said. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the fund had raised $92,000. Matching donations announced during the media briefing brought that number up to roughly $125,000.

After serving as a staging area for public safety officials during the shooting, Luigi's Pizza and Fun Center will be the site of a radiothon fundraiser hosted by 95.9-FM The River from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.

At least a dozen other fundraising events are planned at businesses throughout the community, Irvin said, noting the city will publish a list on its website. Aurora Strong T-shirts, mugs and other memorabilia also are being sold.

The community fund will remain open for a couple of weeks, at which point the money will be evenly distributed among the victims' families, city spokesman Clayton Muhammad said after the news conference. The surviving victim also will receive a portion of the funds, he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On April 8, Luigi's plans to close to host an event for all first responders and their immediate families, said Bob Lockwood, marketing director for the business. A GoFundMe page for the event has raised about $2,600 as of Tuesday evening.

The American Red Cross has been working with first responders to provide snacks and water, mental health services, and a team dedicated to spiritual care, spokeswoman Holly Baker said.

"Over the coming days, the Red Cross will continue to coordinate closely with local officials and community partners to determine how best to support the Aurora community and the loved ones and families of those who have been harmed," she said.

The outpouring of community support is unlike anything Ziman has ever seen, she said. She pointed to a prayer vigil that drew hundreds of mourners to the Henry Pratt Co. on Sunday, saying the event exemplified the "true strength" of Aurora.

"As much as we are hurting, we are also healing together," she said.

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