Victims remembered, first responders honored, on third anniversary of Aurora mass shooting

Looking out Tuesday at a crowd of Aurora firefighters, police officers and city officials, Aurora Historical Society executive director John Jaros spoke the names written on five white crosses.

Russell Beyer. Clayton Parks. Vicente Juarez. Trevor Wehner. Josh Pinkard. The crosses were presented in the same order as when the late Greg "The Cross Man" Zanis first put them up at the Henry Pratt Co. factory where, on Feb. 15, 2019, an attacker shot those men to death.

"It is unfortunate that we have to get together like this. But it is important," Jaros said at the third anniversary ceremony. He said he promised Zanis the crosses would be preserved, "so that our community memory can stay strong."

Mayor Richard Irvin, Police Chief Keith Cross and Fire Chief Gary Krienitz spoke. Four police and fire chaplains offered prayers. They put yellow roses at each cross.

The details of the shooting were not mentioned. The shooter was in a disciplinary meeting with Pinkard, the plant manager; Beyer, union chairman; Parks, human resources manager; Wehner, a human resources intern; and a union steward. He shot them, left the room and shot Juarez. He shot five police officers before being killed.

"I still struggle to make sense of what happened that day," Cross said, remembering hearing longtime co-workers say on their radios that they had been shot. "I pray I never have to hear that again."

Irvin and the chaplains also spoke of the community unity that developed. Rabbi Edward Friedman addressed his prayer to "the God full of compassion, who dwells on high," as is done at Jewish funerals. He said it reminds us that a transcendent God "allows us to look beyond the moment to a brighter future. to the possibilities of coming together as a community for greater accomplishments and closer ties."

The crosses will be displayed through February at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center.

State police update

Illinois State Police announced Tuesday that, as a result of changes made after the shooting, they have reduced the backlog of unanalyzed firearms-owning prohibition information by 97%. The news release said state police prevented 25,000 attempts to illegally obtain a firearm in 2021.

It also said it revoked 70% more FOID cards in 2021 than it had in 2019.

The Aurora shooter had an FOID, but should not have, because he had been convicted of a violent felony in another state. ISP discovered that fact when the shooter applied for a concealed-carry license, and says it notified the man to turn in his guns.

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  Relatives of Vicente Juarez, one of the five men killed in the mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora three years ago, pause at a display of memorial crosses, at a ceremony Tuesday. John Starks/
  Vicente Juarez's daughter, Diana, and son, Christian, stand at the memorial that was on site at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora after Juarez and four others were killed in a shooting there three years ago. A remembrance ceremony took place Tuesday at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center in Aurora. John Starks/
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