Community gathers, shares pain for victims of Aurora shooting

By Erika Wurst For Chronicle Media

About 1,700 people gather for a vigil and memorial service on Feb. 17 in honor of five persons killed two days earlier at the Henry Pratt Co. on Aurora’s southwest side. (Photo by Jack McCarthy/Chronicle Media)

The pain was palpable on Sunday afternoon outside the Henry Pratt Co. building in Aurora where 1,700 residents filled the streets to pray for and remember those who were killed in the city’s most violent shooting two days prior.

The scene of carnage, which many saw on television just 48 hours prior, was one of peace on Sunday as friends, family members and complete strangers of the five men killed braved the bitter cold to lift up their community in prayer.

Some held rosaries, and some held each other as the flowers, candles, cards and pictures adorning the five wooden crosses outside the building continued to mound.

They prayed for the victims, the survivors and the first responders — five Aurora police officers were wounded, though none life-threatening.

Memorials line the fencing at the Henry Pratt Co. building in Aurora to honor the five people killed Feb. 15. (Photo by Erika Wurst/for Chronicle Media)

They prayed for families of loved ones lost, for employees who now bear emotional scars, and for a community that can’t help but feel the terror, trauma and reality of a crime of this caliber occurring so close to home.

“When I thought about the words that I might share with our community and with the family of the victims today, I thought to myself that to simply offer condolences is not enough,” said Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin to the expansive crowd that continued to gather in the snow and sleet.

“(Condolences) don’t measure the amount of pain that we feel for the loss that we’ve experienced in this community. I want to let the families know, the community know, the city know that we feel for them with all of our hearts. That we pray for them and will continue to pray for them every day to help them along the healing process,” he said.

Irvin called this day a time to heal and move forward.

A woman kneels by the cross of Vincente Juarez, one of the five people killed Feb. 15 by a gunman at the Henry Pratt Co. building in Aurora, during a vigil held Sunday afternoon.(Photo by Erika Wurst/for Chronicle Media)

“Now is a time to move together as a strong community; stronger because we recognize that we are in this together.”

One by one, religious leaders took to a makeshift podium in front of the five wooden crosses to pray for each victim:

Clayton Parks, a human resource manager at Henry Pratt; Trevor Wehner, a human resource intern and a student at Northern Illinois University; Russell Beyer, a mold operator; Vicente Juarez, a stock room attendant and fork lift operator; and Josh Pinkard, a plant manager.

They prayed for wounds to heal and for lives to move forward, but that would prove hard to do for family members just beginning to reel with the pain of losing a loved one.

“I want my dad! I want my dad!” the daughter of Vicente Juarez pleaded as she fell to her knees in front of her father’s cross. Her guttural moans affected many in the audience whose eyes drew their own tears.

“This is not a social activity we’re doing,” the Rev. Randy Shoof said into the microphone and his words echoed over the crowd. “This is not some religious duty that we have. We are calling on the living God and we are saying we are desperate and need you in our city.”

Mourners hug while standing alongside the memorials set up for the five people killed Friday at the Henry Pratt Co. factory in Aurora. (Photo by Erika Wurst/for Chronicle Media)

Shoof, who lives just a block away from the scene where so many lives were changed, asked the gatherers to stretch their hands toward the brown, brick building and reclaim it as their own. He asked that they recommit the area to the Lord.

“We stand out in the cold with rain on us, our hearts heavy, and we commit this property to you,” Shoof prayed. “We pray for it to be a place of love and peace and of justice and kindness … we do it with hearts that are heavy, but with joy in the expectation that you are good and you will bring blessings to us. Not just in a small way, but in a huge way.”

Aurora Police Chaplin Ed Doepel, who was with first responders on the night of the deadly shooting, wrapped his arms around Aurora Police Chief Kristin Ziman as they prayed for the six Aurora police officers who were injured as they stormed the Pratt building. Those officers, he said, “love this country and this community more than their own lives.”

The youngest victim in the mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. was Trevor Wehner, a 21-year-old student at Northern Illinois University who was on his first day of an internship at the company. (Photo by Erika Wurst/for Chronicle Media)

“This is a very somber day, one that breaks all of our hearts, so we turn to our almighty God in prayer,” Doepel said. “Honor these officers for risking their lives … we also lift up all first responders who risked their lives to put themselves in harm’s way. Some were injured physically, but many were wounded emotionally and psychologically. The scars and wounds they bear cannot be seen on the surface, but linger in their souls … please heal all who bear wounds from this tragic event.”

Aurora shooter had multiple arrests, prior conviction

Gunman dead after killing 5 at workplace, wounding 5 police officers

Aurora shooting victims include student intern, police officers recovering