The Aurora victims' stories: Intern's 1st day on the job, a family patriarch, an 'incredible' dad, a Mississippi State fan, a union leader

, and Contact ReporterChicago Tribune

A student at Northern Illinois University was on his first day as a human resources intern at the Henry Pratt Co. plant in Aurora on Friday when he was killed, one of five victims who police say were gunned down by plant worker Gary Martin.

The victims were identified as Clayton Parks, 32, of Elgin; Trevor Wehner, 21, of Sheridan, Ill.; Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville; Vicente Juarez, 54, of Oswego; and Josh Pinkard, 37 of Oswego.

Here are their stories.

Trevor Wehner: College student on his 1st day as an intern

Trevor Wehner, 21, of Sheridan, was the youngest of the five victims whose stories friends and family were sharing on Saturday.

His father, Tom Wehner, said Trevor was preparing to graduate from Northern Illinois University in May.

"He had hopes and dreams of doing what he was doing on his first day in his (internship),” Tom Wehner said. “That's what he wanted to do.”

Friends gathered Saturday at the American Legion in Sheridan, roughly 70 miles southwest of Chicago, where they said Trevor Wehner had planned to join them for a monthly event. Jeremy Wright, 20, went to grade school and high school with Wehner. In recent years, Wright said they would often meet up with one another to play tabletop games at the American Legion.

"He was a wonderful person and very happy,” Wright said. “If you saw him around town he always had something nice to say.”

Zach Hauser, 31, said he used to babysit the victim and watched him grow up. He described the entire community of Sheridan as being “in mourning.”

"Everybody always says they know a guy who would give you the shirt off of his back,” Hauser said. “(Trevor) was the truest form of that. He was always smiling and happy and joking around with us. He was just a happy guy. Trevor would go out of his way to make people feel good.”

Outside of the victim’s father’s home on Saturday, friend Christian Smith, 21, said Trevor Wehner always made everyone smile.

"A lot of people just say that about one another, but he really did,” Smith said. “He would find a way to make you laugh.”

In an email to students, NIU’s president, Lisa Freeman, said Wehner was pursuing a degree in human resource management. He was one of two victims with NIU connections who were killed Friday. Clayton Parks, who police said was the human resources manager at Henry Pratt, was the other. Parks was a 2014 graduate of the College of Business, Freeman said.

“Loss like this is devastating and senseless,” Freeman said in the email. “I ask our university community to please keep the Wehner and Parks families, friends and communities in your hearts and offer them caring thoughts.”

Ziman said three of the five victims of the shootings were gunned down in a meeting held to fire Martin. A friend of Wehner’s family, Cynthia Fuller, said she was at the family’s home Friday night when another Pratt employee who had been in the building said Wehner was in the meeting. Police on Saturday did not confirm that. All five victims were in the same area of the complex and died within the first five minutes of the attack, Ziman said.

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“Each and every one of us have had a ‘First Day’ on the job, his should have never ended this way,” read a post on Facebook by Fuller, which by Saturday afternoon had been shared over 28,000 times.

Wehner graduated from Serena High School in 2015. His hometown has about 3,000 people and is 30 miles southwest of Henry Pratt, the manufacturing complex in Aurora. He was a dean’s list student at NIU’s College of Business, according to the school’s website.

According to his social media accounts, Wehner was an avid sports fan. A former member of his high school’s varsity basketball team, he posted about baseball and football. His family and friends began posting their goodbyes on social media Friday evening.

According to social media, he is survived by his father, mother and four siblings.

“Rest easy, big bro,” one of Wehner’s brothers posted on Facebook on Friday evening. “I’ll miss being that annoying little brother to you.”

In her email, Freeman said: “Loss like this is devastating and senseless. I ask our university community to please keep the Wehner and Parks families, friends and communities in your hearts and offer them caring thoughts.”

Christian Smith, 21, said he had known Wehner since he was in sixth grade.

"Trevor had a huge impact on me,” Smith said. “He encouraged me to be myself and not shy away from who you really are. Trevor was always himself. Even at his finest he never tried to be anybody else. He was Trevor.”

Wehner was missed Saturday for the monthly "Nerd Day" held at the American Legion post in downtown Sheridan.

About a few dozen young men in their 20s were in the Legion hall. The night is reserved for young men who enjoy playing tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons and card games, organizers said.

Zach Hauser, who manages the event, remembered how he would occasionally babysit Wehner as a young boy.

"I have known Trevor for quite a long time. I haven't really processed (the loss). I still don't want to believe that it's real," Hauser said.

Vicente Juarez: Family patriarch, good neighbor

A stockroom attendant and forklift operator at Henry Pratt, Vicente Juarez was a thoughtful and hardworking grandfather who always had time to help others, his neighbors said.

“He was one the nicest guys you could ever meet,” said William Zigman, who lives next door to Juarez’s family. “He made it a point to be a good neighbor. And he was.”

Juarez, 54, lived with his wife, adult daughter and four grandchildren in a quiet Oswego subdivision. He also had two adult sons and four other grandchildren.

Born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Juarez had a large, extended family living in the Aurora and Oswego area. Dozens of those relatives gathered at the family home, where they remembered him as a man who took care of his family and was a dedicated employee.

The family declined further comment, saying they appreciate the outpouring of support but they are still dealing with the shock. Family members spoke with both the FBI and Aurora police on Saturday as part of the investigation, relatives said.

Juarez’s niece Ariana Castro launched a GoFundMe page Saturday to help cover his funeral expenses. The page included a photo of Juarez with his wife, Leticia, and their children.

“As many of you know, Vicente was the head of his household and his family depended on him extensively,” Castro wrote. “We know that many other families have also experienced a loss and we appreciate any help.”

Indeed, neighbors described Juarez as the tight-knit family’s rock, the one everyone leaned upon in tough times.

“He’s the patriarch of the family,” neighbor Julie Zigman said. “Everyone looked to him.”

Juarez also led the neighborhood war against dandelions each summer, constantly searching for the best way to eliminate the weeds and sharing his findings with everyone on the street. Neighbors chuckled sadly as they recalled his occasionally unsuccessful battles or the excitement he felt when he came across a possible cure-all chemical.

“The dandelions bother everyone, but they really bothered Vince,” William Zigman said. “He was always trying to beat them.”

When not fighting dandelions, Juarez kept meticulous care of his own lawn and frequently offered to help his neighbors do the same.

“On the very first day that I moved in, he saw me outside working in the yard and offered to help,” neighbor Joven Ang said. “Anytime I was outside after that, he would ask if I needed help. That’s the kind of person he was.”

Clayton Parks: Loving husband, ‘incredible’ dad was ‘nice, kind, funny’

Clayton Parks, 32, the human resources director at Pratt, was a husband and a father to a young son, according to a post on Facebook from his wife, Abby Parks.

"My husband, my love, my best friend, and the incredible father of our sweet son was taken from us yesterday in the shooting in Aurora, and I am devastated," she wrote.

Hundreds of people commented on the post with messages of prayer, grief and remembrance.

His brother told the Tribune in a message late Friday that it was too soon for the family to talk.

Parks graduated from the business college at Northern Illinois University in 2014, according to university officials.

A former co-worker told the Tribune that Parks went to work for American TV & Appliance straight from high school and had a strong sales record at the now-defunct company. He left to get his degree at Northern Illinois University and then worked in human resources at Caterpillar Inc., a construction equipment company.

He left Caterpillar in 2018, according to the co-worker, who did not want to be named but worked with Parks at both American TV and Caterpillar.

"He was nice, kind and funny, the life-of-the-room type of person," he said.

"He was definitely motivated for being a young person,” he said. “He had an idea of what he wanted to do.

"I'm shocked, very shocked. And angry."

Josh Pinkard: He loved God, family and Mississippi State sports

Josh Pinkard, 37, the plant manager for Henry Pratt, was a father of three and devoted husband who loved Mississippi State sports, his family said.

“I want to shout from the rooftops about how amazing Josh was!” his wife, Terra, wrote in a Facebook post Sunday morning. “He was brilliant! The smartest person I’ve ever met! My best friend! The man I would have leaned on during devastation like this who would tell me it’s ok Terra, it is all going to be fine. The man who was dying and found the clarity of mind for just a second to send me one last text to let me know he would always love me. This unbelievable person was robbed from us.”

Pinkard lived in Oswego but hailed from Holly Pond, Ala., a town of about 800. He earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Mississippi State University and a master’s degree from University of Arkansas, according to his LinkedIn account.

Pinkard also once lived in Albertville, Ala., where he worked for Mueller Water Products, Pratt’s parent company, according to his LinkedIn page.

Pinkard worked for Mueller for at least a dozen years, and the Linkedin page notes he started working in Aurora in April 2018.

“He loved God, his family and Mississippi State sports,” wrote a cousin in a text to the Tribune that he said was written on behalf of Pinkard’s wife, Terra.

News of the shooting on Friday spread immediately over social media to Pinkard’s out-of-town relatives.

One relative posted this: “We need to pray for Terra’s husband Josh he was shot in the Aurora Illinois shooting.”

A sea of praying hand emojis followed.

In her Sunday Facebook post, Terra thanked her community for their love, prayers and kindness, and asked for prayers for Pinkard’s mother, his twin sister and her and her children.

As calls of a shooter at Henry Pratt began pouring into the Aurora Police Department on Friday afternoon, Terra wrote that she received a text from Pinkard: I love you, it said. I’ve been shot at work.

Terra described in the post trying to reach first him, then the plant, then driving to the site and hospitals looking for news. Then she learned her husband had died.

“With my pastor’s help, since family was still on planes to get to us, I told my children their dad did not make it and is in heaven with Jesus,” she wrote. “I’ve never had to do something that hard.”

Russell Beyer: Father of 2, union chairman

Russell Beyer, 47, of Yorkville, was a mold operator at Henry Pratt.

He worked for Pratt for 20 years in various jobs, according to a statement from parent company Mueller Water Products.

His mother said his family was in shock over his death but declined further comment, as did his father.

Beyer also was a union chairman. A sign that reads “Union Home” is in the front yard of his home in Yorkville.

Annie Sweeney and Angela Leventis Lourgos of the Tribune; Megan Jones and Sarah Freishtat of the Aurora Beacon-News; and freelance reporter Linda Girardi contributed.

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