Police: Aurora Gunman Likely Knew He Was Being Fired
Updated 6:30 p.m.
The man who killed five co-workers and wounded another and five police officers at a suburban Chicago manufacturing warehouse brought his gun to a meeting in which he was going to be fired, authorities said Saturday.
Because Gary Martin brought his gun to Friday's meeting at the sprawling Henry Pratt Co. warehouse in Aurora, he likely knew it was possible he was about to lose the job he had held for 15 years, police Chief Kristen Ziman said at a news conference.
J. Scott Hall, CEO of Mueller Water Products, the parent company of Henry Clay Company, confirmed during a Saturday afternoon press conference that Martin was being terminated on Friday “for a culmination of various workplace rules violations.” He also said the company did conduct a background check 15 years ago when Martin was hired, but a prior felony conviction did not surface.
Police identified the five slain workers as human resources manager Clayton Parks of Elgin; human resources intern and Northern Illinois University student Trevor Wehner of DeKalb; plant manager Josh Pinkard of Oswego; mold operator Russell Beyer of Yorkville; and stock room attendant and fork lift operator Vicente Juarez of Oswego.
“Friday was basically the worst day our company has ever had,” Hall said.
The company is offering counselling and grief support to all employees, and will welcome them to return to work on Monday.
“We will work over the next days and weeks at what we could have done differently,” Hall said. “I’d like to reiterate that what’s more important is the five individuals who lost their lives that day.”
One of the five people who were killed Friday, Trevor Wehner, was a 21-year-old college student who had started interning in the human resources department at Henry Pratt on Friday.
That's according to his uncle, Jay Wehner. He says his nephew grew up about 30 miles south of Aurora in Sheridan and was expected to graduate from Northern Illinois University in May with a degree in human resource management.
Jay Wehner said Trevor was a "wonderful person" who was fun, caring and "always, always happy."
Hall got particularly choked up when asked if it was typical for an intern to be in the room while an employee was being let go.
“That’s a really tough question,” Hall said. “I don’t think we had thought about that ever.”
Ziman said she didn't know what had been conveyed to Martin, why he was being fired or whether he had shown up for his regular shift or was there just for the meeting. But she said as soon as he was fired, he pulled his handgun and began shooting. Three of the five co-workers he killed were in the room with him and the other two were just outside, she said. A sixth employee and five police officers were shot but survived.
Frantic calls to 911 started pouring in from frightened workers at 1:24 p.m. Friday and officers arrived at the scene within four minutes, authorities said. Martin fired on the officers when they arrived, striking one outside and another near the building's entrance. The other three wounded officers were shot inside the building. None of their wounds are considered life-threatening, Ziman said Saturday.
All of the officers who were wounded were shot within the first five minutes of police arriving at the scene, authorities said. Martin then hid inside the 29,000-square-foot building and a search ensued. He fired on an officer about an hour later and police fired back, killing him, authorities said.
Another wounded worker, whose name wasn't released, was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. A sixth police officer suffered a knee injury during the search of the building.
Martin had been arrested six times in Aurora over the years, including for domestic battery, Ziman said.
He was able to buy the Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handgun he used in the attack because an initial background check didn't catch that he had a prior felony conviction in Mississippi, the chief said. Martin was issued a firearm owner's identification card in January of 2014 after he passed the initial background check and he bought the gun that March 11.
It wasn't until he applied for a concealed carry permit five days later and went through a more rigorous background check that uses digital fingerprinting that his 1995 felony conviction in Mississippi for aggravated battery was flagged and his firearm owner's ID card was revoked, she said.
The shooting shocked the city of 200,000, which is about 40 miles west of Chicago.
"For so many years, we have seen similar situations throughout our nation and the horrible feeling that we get when we see it on the news. To experience it first-hand, is even more painful," said Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin said Friday.
Asked if Martin's rampage had been a "classic" workplace shooting, police chief Ziman said:
"I don't know. We can only surmise with a gentleman that's being terminated that this was something he intended to do."