'Hurt into hope': Mayor says Aurora has rallied in wake of mass shooting
It's been called one of the worst days in Aurora's long history.
Five people were shot and killed on Feb. 15, 2019, when a co-worker -- angry he was being terminated -- opened fire at the Henry Pratt Co. warehouse. The shooter also wounded five Aurora police officers when they responded and chased him through the building. The gunman was killed in a shootout with police.
With the anniversary of the shooting just days away, city, police and fire officials gathered Tuesday to reflect on what happened and remember the five people who lost their lives -- Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner.
They also thanked the five officers who were wounded -- John Cebulski, Marco Gomez, Adam Miller, Reynaldo Rivera and James Zegar.
As he stood next to the newly opened Henry Pratt Memorial Exhibit in the Aurora Art & History Center, Mayor Richard Irvin said officials wanted not only to recount what happened "but to remember our triumph over tragedy."
"Over the past year, we have worked collectively to turn hurt into hope and pain into progress," Irvin said. "This community has taken one of the darkest days in Aurora and found the ability to pull light out of that darkness."
'Bruised, not broken'
Irvin says the lessons learned last February served to unify Aurora and make it a more stable, safe and better community.
The city adopted the hashtag #AuroraStrong on the day of the shooting. "That strength has continued to multiply over the year," Irvin said.
He said the "Aurora Strong" theme helped bring the community together. Donors locally and across the country contributed more than a $1 million to help the families of the victims.
"Out of this strength came a new sense of unity and community," Irvin said.
He said residents rallied around the city's first responders. There's also been an increase in volunteerism "that is rooted in the response to Henry Pratt."
"All over town, people are asking the question, 'How can I help Aurora?' and then acting on it," he said.
This, the mayor says, is "our Aurora."
"This is the Aurora that was bruised but not broken," he said.
Police Chief Kristen Ziman says the hardest day of her life was having to stand in front of the families of the five "beautiful souls" who died.
She said she thinks about them every day. "They just went to work that morning and never came home."
Despite the loss, Ziman says other lives were saved because of the courage of the first responders and the training they received.
"We do not rise to the level of our expectations," Ziman said. "We fall to the level of our training. And those officers and those firefighters that day did exactly that. Fortunately, that expectation was high for all of us."
Fire Chief Gary Krienitz said the department is building on the lessons learned from the shooting.
"We've become stronger," he said. "We've become more unified with the police department. We've become more efficient. And we are far better prepared."
Krienitz said he prays the department will never need to respond to another mass shooting. "But if we do, we will do it with the same care and professionalism that was exhibited on that day," he said.
Ziman said the police department implemented new procedures as a result of a review conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the shooting.
"I'm really happy and proud to say that there were only a few things that we needed to tweak," she said. The department, for example, has taken steps to improve communication with multiple agencies during major responses.
Going forward, Ziman said she's hoping to change the culture that prevented Henry Pratt employees from reporting a verbal threat the shooter made on the morning of the shooting.
"Not one person went to a supervisor," she said. "Not one person called 911. It is my mission to change that culture."
A sad anniversary
Irvin says the community must never forget what happened at the Henry Pratt warehouse.
He is encouraging residents to "remember and reflect" on Saturday by visiting the memorial exhibit at the Aurora Art & History Center, 20 E. Downer Place. Visitors will be able to leave cards and notes for the families of the victims and the city's first responders.
All flags on city properties will fly at half staff in commemoration of the anniversary. The police department will have a moment of silence over its radio system at 1:24 p.m. -- the time the first emergency call was received.
While the shooting defined a new version of Aurora, Irvin said, it didn't destroy Aurora.
"Feb. 15, 2019, didn't leave us Aurora scared," he said. "It left us Aurora strong."