‘We’re still Aurora strong’

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Ted Beyer, father of 2019 Aurora mass shooting victim Russell Beyer, looks at the tribute to his son at the Thursday, Feb. 15, candlelight vigil marking the five years since the shooting that left five dead at the Henry Pratt Co. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Emilee Pinkard would wait by the front door of her home every day waiting for her father to return from work.

On Feb. 15, 2019, instead of waiting by the door, she was waiting in a hospital room, not knowing what was to come.

Her father, Josh Pinkard, was one of five men killed that day in a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora.

“You hear the word ‘hero’ get passed around a lot, but if I had to pick my favorite superhero, it would be my father,” Emilee, now 15, said at a candlelight vigil Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Belle Salle Events Center in Aurora. “Nothing could break him, not even kryptonite.

“When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, he stayed in the hospital room for three days, freezing cold, with just a thin blanket. He always stayed strong around us. No matter what was going on, we could always turn to my father and see how strong he was being. Even though I was hurting in the hospital room, my father always taught me to be strong, so I was. I always thought, ‘If Dad could do it, so could I.’ I love my father and I love the path the Lord has put me on even though it has many sharp turns.”

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin addresses community members at the candlelight vigil as Aldermen Shweta Baid (left) and Patty Smith listen. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin noted that five years later, families of the Pratt shooting victims have begun the healing process, “although you can never fully heal from a loss like this. Yet, mothers and fathers have awakened each day since a bit stronger. Spouses have fought through the tears a little harder to keep moving forward as best they can.

“Children, some young and some adults, have had to, unfortunately, learn how to navigate their lives without their fathers.”

A granite bench remembering the five men — Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner — who died in the shooting will be placed at the Aurora Police Department.

Five Aurora police officers — John Cebulski, Marco Gomez, Adam Miller, Reynaldo Rivera, and James Zegar — were injured when responding to the shooting.

The family of Clayton Parks, human resources director at Pratt, go past the bench remembering Parks and the other four mass shooting victims in 2019 and a photo of Parks at the candlelight vigil. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“We know, had they not acted so selflessly, this tragedy could have been and would have been exponentially worse,” Irvin said.

The mayor said the city is a profoundly different community five years later.

“For five years, the ‘Aurora Strong’ mantra and spirit has helped us take one of the darkest days in the history of Aurora and find the ability to pull the light out of the darkness. The adage is true: You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

“We’re still Aurora strong. The lessons we learned have made us more unified, more stable, safer and a much better community. We have angels with wings who watch over us, and we have angels in uniforms who protect us.”

Irvin said on that day “Aurora did get shaken, but Aurora did not get shattered. On that day, Aurora did get bruised, but Aurora was not broken. On that day, the spirit of Aurora was certainly deflated, but our spirit was not destroyed.”

Emilee Pinkard, daughter of Josh Pinkard, talks with Aurora Police Chief Keith Cross following the candlelight vigil to remember her father and the other victims of the 2019 mass shooting. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Irvin said the five victims’ deaths are annually remembered by the city, but that going forward their lives will also be commemorated on their birthdays with the day designated in their honor.

  • 21 — Russell Beyer
  • 26 — Clayton Parks
  • April 22 — Trevor Wehner
  • May 5 — Vicente Juarez
  • 10 — Josh Pinkard

The five men were killed after Gary Martin, 45, an employee at the valve manufacturing company, was fired for a safety violation. Martin opened fire killing the five, including Wehner, a Northern Illinois University student on his first day of an internship. Martin was killed in the plant during a shootout with police.

Maria and Leo DeLeon, sister and brother-in-law of Vicente Juarez, wore T-shirts reading, “A big piece of my heart lives in Heaven … In Memory of Vincente Juarez 05-05-1964-02-15-2019” to the candlelight vigil.

Leo and Maria DeLeon wear T-shirts remembering Maria’s brother, Vicente Juarez, one of the victims of the Pratt Co. mass shooting in 2019. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Maria said the date of her brother’s death is always a tough day for her and her family.

“It’s hard for us, his kids, my mother, and my brothers and sisters, just to remember, but we love him. We keep him in our prayers every day,” Maria said.

She remembered her brother as a fun, happy and loving individual.

“He was always around when we needed him,” Maria said.

“He was a happy-go-lucky guy,” Leo said. “He was a jokester. He was always fun to be around because he always made you laugh. He always had something to say — and he was always a good eater. He knew everywhere to go to eat — ‘That’s awesome. That’s not so good.’”