'We will always remember': Aurora exhibit honors victims of Pratt shooting
Mary Clark Ormond wonders what will happen after the collection of teddy bears, candles, cards and photographs goes back into storage.
She knows those material things will last, but she doesn't want the human stories from yet another mass shooting to get lost to history.
So she thinks about her successors at the Aurora Historical Society: "How will they know what it meant to us?"
She's been pondering those things in front of a display of five white crosses -- the emotional core of a new exhibit at the Pierce Art and History Center commemorating the anniversary of the Henry Pratt shooting in Aurora.
A year ago, those crosses stood outside the manufacturing warehouse as part of a makeshift memorial to the five victims: Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner.
The mementos haphazardly left behind by mourners have been cataloged, organized and put back on display by the history center, but the exhibit remains a shrine to the five co-workers who lost their lives and the five Aurora police officers who were wounded.
"I've sat in front of those crosses over and over again and thought about them and thought about their families," said Ormond, the historical society's president.
She knows you have to spend some time there to absorb all the heartbreaking details.
Wehner, a 21-year-old from Sheridan, was just three months away from his college graduation when he was killed on the first day of his internship at Henry Pratt. On his cross, his parents wrote "I love you forever! XOXO Mom" and "Love you always Dad."
The cross for Juarez, 54, is still wrapped in the string of a deflated balloon. Attached to the cross for Beyer, 47, is an "Aurora Strong" wristband in a nod to a movement started by the city to help the families and the community grieve.
The laminated pictures on the crosses for Parks, 32, and Pinkard, 37, show two young dads.
"We're looking at a lot of mementos here that represent people who actually lived and had families and went to work one day and didn't come back," Historical Society Executive Director John Jaros said.
The other gallery walls show the outpouring of support for Aurora police. The department received hundreds of cards from students, scout groups and law enforcement.
Ormond was struck by a message from a fourth-grader: "Live in peace."
"We want, first of all, for people to come out of this and remember the victims, but also to remember and appreciate our first responders who went and took fire and took the gunman down and prevented more tragedy," Jaros said.
Since the exhibit opened a week ago, Ormond has met with visitors, but she's sometimes at a loss for words.
"When we were putting this exhibit together," she said, "we were asking ourselves, is this what we should be doing? Is this what people want?"
The historical society has tried to set a respectful tone. It invited relatives of the victims to privately tour the collection outside of museum hours. The exhibit will run until at least Feb. 29.
Beyer's family and Wehner's mom already have visited.
"From what I heard, they appreciated that these things were saved and that we were doing this, but again it's very strong emotions," Jaros said.
So Ormond likes to give visitors their space. One man told her something that helped dispel some of those questions, at least for now, about the future and how people will remember the shooting.
"You've said it all here," he told Ormond.
On Saturday, Ormond will give some brief remarks during a memorial ceremony at the history center, 20 E. Downer Place.
Students from Holy Angels Catholic School, a campus about a half mile away from the Pratt warehouse, will pass out flowers. And at 1:24 p.m., the gathering will hold a moment of silence to mark the time the first emergency call was received.
Karen Fullett-Christensen, Aurora's poet laureate, also has written a poem, one example of the art created for the anniversary. It's called "Hearts and Flowers," and it reads:
Valentine's Day hearts and fragrant flowers are on display
but this year is different
While others bask in the warmth of their lovers' sweet surprises
some of us sit with empty arms and broken spirits
Longing to turn back the clock to the day before life was shattered
before time stopped for eternity
Condolence cards and songs of mourning have done their work
caring, compassion, outpourings of sympathy helped ease the pain
but the hole never closes
Yes, we will go on, we will keep walking
but we'll never forget, we'll never stop loving
in visions and prayers we will always remember:
Our hearts and flowers will always belong
to dreams of you.
The five Henry Pratt shooting victimsOn Feb. 15, 2019, five employees of the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora were killed in a shooting:
• Trevor Wehner, 21, of Sheridan, a human resources intern on his first day on the job and a senior at Northern Illinois University
• Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, a human resources manager
• Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, the plant manager
• Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, a mold operator and union chairman
• Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego, a stock room attendant and forklift operator