AURORA – Greg Zanis has traveled the country delivering handmade crosses to honor the victims of mass shootings since 1997.
Zanis, a retired carpenter, is accustomed to helping people in times of tragedy through his Crosses for Losses organization. But the fatal shooting of five people Friday at the Henry Pratt Co. was different: It occurred in his hometown.
"Now I'm beginning to see what it's like to have it happen in my own town," he said. "It's devastating. It's like somebody knocked the air out of me."
Zanis' crosses were on display at a vigil attended by hundreds of people Sunday in front of the company's warehouse in Aurora, where five employees were killed Friday by fellow employee Gary Montez Martin, 45, of Aurora after he was fired by the company.
Among those killed was Sheridan native Trevor Wehner, 21. The DeKalb resident was a student at Northern Illinois University and a human resources intern at Henry Pratt.
Wehner had just begun working in the human resources department at Mueller Water Products, the parent company of Henry Pratt Co., when he was included in a meeting Friday in which Martin was being terminated.
Also killed were Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin, a 2014 NIU graduate who was the human resources manager; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, a mold operator; Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego, a stock room attendant and forklift operator; and Josh Pinkard, 37, of Oswego, the plant manager.
Pinkard's uncle, the Rev. David Chambers, who is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fairview, Alabama, recalled his nephew Monday as a bright young man with a strong Christian faith who was looked up to by his peers and family members as he grew up.
He extended condolences to the families of the other shooting victims and to the family of the shooter.
"Our hearts go out to the other victims' families, as well," Chambers said. "We know they are experiencing very similar emotions, and in that, we are including the family of the shooter. We think what he did was totally evil. We aren't calling him evil, but what he did was evil."
During a prayer at the vigil, the Rev. Dan Haas asked God to help heal the community.
"We are brokenhearted over what has happened in this community, what's happened to these individuals who have been murdered," he said. "Today, Lord, begin a process of healing in all of our lives, that we commit ourselves to living lives of peace and love."
Among those attending the vigil were Jim and Amy Laughead of North Aurora.
"You have to come here and show your support in the bad times," Jim Laughead said.
Amy Laughead agreed.
"This is a horrific thing that happened," she said. "Why wouldn't you come to something like this, to show support for the families that have lost their loved ones?"
Jim Laughead said he hopes the support for these families won't go away after the headlines have faded.
"Two years from now, five years from now, these people will still need help for emotional stress and mental issues from dealing with a traumatic incident like this," he said. "It can't just be for today. It's the life we now live."
Honoring injured officers
A second gathering was held Sunday evening in front of the warehouse, 401 S. Highland Ave., in honor of the five officers who were injured during the attack.
The cold and snow didn't stop dozens of residents from offering prayers and songs to the officers. Five white crosses bearing the names of the five men killed were set up behind the vigil's organizers and speakers.
"Each cross represents a person who would have said 'thank you' to the police officers if they were here," said local activist Jose Luis Del Bosque, president of the Stand and March organization.
Del Bosque helped organize the "Aurora Strong" vigil.
"When they were called, they responded without hesitation," he said. "And we all know that's why so many lives were saved. … This is what the men in blue do. This is the weather they work in. This is why we're here to thank them."
After prayers and letters were read by people affected by gun violence in recent years, attendees marched to the Aurora Police Department, 1200 E. Indian Trail Road, where they hoisted a large blue banner signed by those in attendance in honor of the first responders. The five white crosses also were taken there.
"Everyone who goes to the police station can sign and give their thanks to our officers," Del Bosque said. "Hopefully, [the banner] gets filled up. It's 7 yards by length."
• Shaw Media reporter Daniel Gaitan and editor John Etheredge contributed to this story.