How Aurora factory union steward saw shooting begin, survived two attempts on his life
A union steward who was in the room for the disciplining of a worker who went on to kill five people at a factory in Aurora, as well as wound five police officers and the steward himself, is suing the Illinois State Police, alleging negligence.
The steward's attorney on Friday described the moment the worker became angry and started shooting, noting how the steward was lucky to escape with his life — even after the worker took a second try at killing him.
Timothy Williams' attorney, David Rapoport, said Henry Pratt Co. managers on Feb. 15 met with the worker, Gary Martin, to discuss an allegation that he was breaking safety rules by altering his eyewear. The worker responded unexpectedly aggressively.
When the worker was then fired, he screamed and swore, then yelled, “This is over!” and started shooting, Rapoport said.
Rapoport said Williams, of Aurora, did not want to speak publicly about the attack but authorized his lawyer to do so. Williams was shot in the arm and back, Rapoport said.
The lawsuit alleges the negligence of the Illinois State Police allowed the gunman to buy and keep the weapon he used in his deadly rampage. It also alleges the state police conducted inadequate background checks and follow-up in the case.
If the state police had done better work, local law enforcement would have had a chance to do something to take the gun away from the man, the suit says.
The suit seeking $2 million in damages was filed in the Courts of Claims of the state of Illinois. Illinois State Police did not respond to a request for comment.
Day of the shooting
Williams, 48, has worked for Pratt for 14 years. He is a shop steward for its union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
According to Rapoport, Williams was asked that morning to attend the meeting in the afternoon involving the worker and management. He was not told what it was about and does not know if management went in intending to fire the worker, Rapoport said. Williams was there to make sure the worker's contractual rights were protected.
At the meeting, Rapoport said, human resources manager Clayton Parks and plant manager Josh Pinkard were on one side of a table; Williams, another union representative and the worker were on the other side. The worker sat with his back turned to the union representatives.
Williams thought that was peculiar, Rapoport said.
Pratt managers began discussing an allegation that the shooter violated safety rules by removing a foam seal from required safety eyewear. The seal prevents stray particles at the valve-making plant from getting in a worker's eyes.
The worker's response surprised Williams, and it was out of proportion to the alleged infraction, Rapoport said.
After the worker yelled “This is over!” and started shooting, Williams suffered a wound to his right arm. When shooting halted — Williams thought the gun had become jammed — Williams ran out the door and yelled to 40 or so other workers to escape, according to Rapoport.
By then, the shooter was driving a motorized cart through the building. Upon seeing Williams again, the shooter said, “Oh, you're not dead yet,” and shot him twice more, according to Rapoport.
But then the worker left. Williams thinks that was when the police showed up, Rapoport said.
Williams managed to get up and get out of the building. Co-workers drove him to Provena Mercy Medical Center. The shot in his arm passed through, damaging bone, muscle and blood vessels.
Two bullets remain in his back, and doctors still must decide whether to remove them. Williams has not returned to work.
The civilians killed in the Feb. 15 rampage were Trevor Wehner, 21, of DeKalb, a human resources intern on his first day on the job and set to graduate in May from Northern Illinois University; Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, the human resources manager hired last November; Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, the plant manager who transferred there last spring after a dozen years in Alabama; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, a mold operator for two decades and union chairman; and Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego, a stock room attendant and forklift operator since 2006.
The gunman was killed in a shootout with police, authorities said.
The officers who were shot were John Cebulski, an Aurora officer for more than 30 years; James Zegar, a 26-year veteran; Reynaldo Rivera, an officer for 24 years; Marco Gomez, employed almost 14 years; Adam Miller, a four-year veteran; and Diego Avila, who has been with the department for more than two years.
“Illinois State Police is a very good organization. We are not coming in with a political agenda,” Rapoport said. The suit is about the state police's “being at fault administratively” once the agency learned an initial background check, done in March 2014, was faulty, he said.
The check, done when the shooter applied for a Firearm Owners Identification card, did not uncover a 1995 conviction in Mississippi for a violent attack on a woman. The conviction was discovered when the gunman applied shortly thereafter for a concealed-carry permit.
The state police have acknowledged their initial background check did not uncover his criminal record.
But when they found the error, the state police failed to inform the Aurora Police Department the man was illegally in possession of an FOID card and a handgun, the lawsuit alleges. If they had, Aurora police could have taken steps to get the gun, Rapoport said.
Though the state police told the gun owner “a letter concerning your FOID revocation will be forthcoming,” the lawsuit alleges the letter was never sent. The Illinois State Police procedure at the time was to notify local, county and state law enforcement of the revocation, but records also show no copy of an electronic notification was sent to them about the FOID card revocation or the fact that he likely was in illegal possession of a handgun, according to the lawsuit.
“The claimant has experienced, and will experience, pain, suffering, disability, loss of a normal life, medical expenses, lost earnings and a loss of earning capacity,” the lawsuit says, “all because of the injuries suffered due to the ISP's negligence.”
Earlier this month, the state police announced changes to the FOID card revocation process. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Friday called the sweeping changes a step in the right direction, ABC 7 reported.
“The state police are going to electronically inform law enforcement about the people who were revoked and they're going to give us the data on how many guns are in people's houses,” he said.
Dart said the key change is the information about guns in people's homes. The data comes from the information a licensed gun seller gives the state police when a buyer makes a purchase, although the data does not include out-of-state or gun-show purchases.
The changes also include information on why a person's FOID card was revoked.
Oak Brook Police Chief James Kruger told ABC 7 that even with the information, police would need a warrant to search a person's home for guns. And Dart said many departments don't have the resources to complete such searches.
• Troy Closson of the Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report.