More than 1,000 people stood in slush and freezing drizzle Sunday to take part in a prayer vigil outside an Aurora manufacturing plant where five people were fatally shot Friday.
In front of hand-painted wood crosses and a growing mound of flowers, candles and victim photos, Rev. Dan Haas said the "senseless killings" at Henry Pratt Co. had devastated the community.
“We are so saddened, Lord, by what has happened in our city,” Haas said, leading a prayer. “We know that you have not forgotten us, not forsaken us.”
“We think of the verse that is on these crosses — that God is close to the those who are crushed in spirit and broken-hearted,” Haas said.
Haas, executive director of A Future and A Hope Foundation, read the names and ages of the five victims and others who have died in violent attacks in Aurora this year, prompting wailing sobs among mourners.
As pastors took turns leading prayers, Rob Fromherz, 66, stood silent toward the back of the crowd.
“I worked with them every day,” Fromherz said, referring to the Henry Pratt victims he knew during his 22 years as a maintenance worker at the plant before retiring last July.
Fromherz said they included Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville. Beyer worked as a rubber-mold operator and union chairman and sat in on the Friday meeting where a co-worker learned he was being fired, pulled out a handgun and went on a rampage.
Fromherz called Beyer a “jokester who made you laugh right when you walked up to him.”
He also praised Beyer as a union leader: “He took care of anybody if there was a problem. He didn’t want nobody fired (because) everybody needs a job.”
Fromherz said he also worked closely with the suspected shooter, Gary Martin, 45, who was killed by police.
“He was a strange guy,” Flomherz said. “He’d stay back in the corner and yell, ‘I think they’re trying to fire me and I don’t know why.’”
“Nobody can figure out why (Martin) killed everybody,” Flomherz said. “There are plenty of jobs out here. He could have went and got another job.”
During the vigil, disaster psychologist Jamie Aten circulated among the mourners.
“Someone who has worked with this company for many years can likely see themselves in the victims who lost their lives,” said Aten, who founded the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, a faith-based research center at nearby Wheaton College. “Also, the fact that they’re still in the area and close, they’re likely to gain more exposure, which can trigger some of this sort of guilt.”
When media coverage of the massacre ends, Aten warned, the victims’ loved ones and co-workers will need “multiple-tiered” and long-lasting care by the company, community mental-health agencies, area school systems and religious leaders.
“And then we need to just come together as friends,” Aten said. “Just knowing that you have someone to lean on can drastically reduce stress following a mass trauma.”
Martin killed three people in the room during the meeting and two others just outside, according to police. Martin also wounded a sixth worker, who is expected to survive.
After wounding five police officers who responded to the shooting, Martin hid in the back of the building, where officers found him about an hour later and killed him during an exchange of gunfire, police said. Most of the officers have been released from hospitals.
Besides Beyer, the victims include human resources manager Clayton Parks of Elgin, plant manager Josh Pinkard of Oswego, stockroom attendant and forklift operator Vicente Juarez of Oswego, and Trevor Wehner, a company intern and Northern Illinois University student who lived in DeKalb and grew up in Sheridan.
An initial background check failed to detect a felony conviction that should have barred Martin from owning the gun.