AURORA – When the first burst of gun shots echoed through the neighborhood Friday afternoon, Greg Ferrell was sitting in his truck.
The 50-year-old Aurora native runs Beamon’s Truck Repair in the building next door to the Henry Pratt Company.
“You could hear them exchanging fire,” Ferrell said.
On Saturday morning, Ferrell was in his truck again. He broke down what he saw and heard to a group of friends hanging out in the parking lot and drinking coffee.
“I never seen so many rifles,” Farrell said. “This never happens.”
This was the scene surrounding Aurora’s historic Henry Pratt building, home to Mueller Water Products, where recently terminated employee Gary Martin opened fire inside Friday afternoon. Martin and five other people would die in the incident.
Next door, Simon Rodriguez checked on a buddy at Junez Auto Service.
The 56-year-old auto parts salesmen went to West Aurora High School with one of the victims, Vicente Juarez, an Oswego resident who operated a forklift at the Pratt warehouse.
“He was a very happy person, always smiling,” Rodriquez said of his late friend.
As young men, they often spent weekends at The Alamo Ballroom, now known as the C Club.
“He liked to dance a lot,” Rodriquez said.
Gabriel Gonzales was in the middle of a nap with his grandchildren when the shooting occurred less than a block away from his Woodlawn Avenue home.
The 35-year-old Marine veteran wouldn’t learn of the tragedy unfolding in his neighborhood until he flipped on the television.
“I saw ‘Aurora,’” he said. “‘Active shooter.’”
Gonzalez said he soon witnessed SWAT members funneling into the area with rifles. In the military, the presence of weaponry is commonplace, he said, but it was an unsettling sight to see in the neighborhood where he grew up.
Meanwhile, Gonzales’ wife, Tina, was trying to get a hold of him on his cell phone, but his battery had died. She got the news in a text message during a class.
She ran out of the classroom to make sure her husband and grandkids were safe.
“I was freaking out,” she said. “It was the worst feeling ever. I didn’t know what was going on. It was way too close to home.”
Police say Gary Martin, 45, of the 1900 block of Selmarten Road, Aurora, shot and killed three people in the meeting room and two outside the room in other parts of the building with a Smith and Wesson 40 caliber handgun he purchased from a dealer in 2014.
He was turned down for a concealed carry permit and his Illinois FOID card was revoked that year after it was discovered he had a 1995 felony conviction for aggravated assault out of Mississippi.
More recently, Martin had six prior arrests by the Aurora Police Department for traffic and domestic violence related issues, 2017 charges of disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property in Oswego, and a 2008 order of protection issued against him in Kane County, according to court records.
Law enforcement officials continue to investigate and interview more than 40 more witnesses. Police say it is not known at this point how many rounds were shot by Martin, whether the victims were shot at random or not, or whether he was trying to escape when he was finally killed by police.
Rodriquez struggled with questions about what motivated the shooter to act out Friday.
“I love people, man,” he said. “I don’t know what he was thinking. I’ve lost jobs before, but I didn’t drown in a glass of water, bro.”
““This tragedy has not just hit close to home – it has left all of Oswego grieving alongside our neighbors,” said Oswego Village President Gail Johnson in a statement issued early Saturday afternoon.
Johnson noted that two of the shooting victims, Vicente Juarez, a stock room attendant and forklift operator and Josh Pinkard, plant manager, were village residents.
“Our thoughts are with the victims, and our condolences go out to our Oswego families, as well as to all the families who will be forever changed by yesterday’s events. Know that our support is with you," Johnson said.
Continuing, Johnson extended graditude to the first responders, “especially our Oswego police officers who assisted at the scene and who will continue to offer their support to their brothers and sisters at the Aurora Police Department, and to all whose heroic actions saved lives yesterday. We wish the Aurora officers injured yesterday a full and speedy recovery.“
Johnson noted that when brutal acts of violence occur, the sudden terror and its lasting ripple effects can affect everyoune thoughout an entirement community. She encouraged anyone who is feeling distressed in this moment or anytime to contact their medical professoinal or the Kendall County Health Department.
Johnson concluded, “In our darkest moments, we remain committed to continually promoting the safety, health and wellness of every person in order to help our community heal.”
Yorkville Mayor Gary Golinski also extended his deepest condolences the family and friends of the victims, including Russell Beyer of Yorkville.
"Your friends and neighbors are here for you in the days ahead. This was a senseless tragedy and we grieve for those who are no longer with us. May our Lord bless and comfort the victims' families and the recovering police officers during this time of grief," Golinski said.
Dr. Christine J. Sobek, president of Waubonsee Community College, described the shooting as a terrible tragedy in a statement issued by the college Saturday.
"This tragedy has truly impacted our entire region and we have learned that the victims are from several communities throughout our local area. As the community college for many of these communities, we mourn with every resident and every leader," Sobeck said. "We want to recognize the bravery and selflessness of the police officers who ran directly into danger and saved many lives. We cannot thank these heroes enough for what they did yesterday and every day that they serve.
"Though we may live and work in different areas, we are all part of #OneAurora. Our sincerest prayers and deepest sympathies are with the victims, their families and their loved ones," Sobek concluded.