AURORA, Ill. — The man who opened fire and killed five co-workers at a suburban Chicago manufacturing plant took a gun he wasn't allowed to have to a job he must have known he was about to lose.
Right after learning Friday that he was being fired from his job of 15 years at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, Gary Martin pulled out a gun and began shooting, killing the three people in the room with him and two others just outside and wounding a sixth employee before officers began arriving, drawing his attention their way, police said Saturday at a news conference in the city of about 200,000 people roughly 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Chicago.
Martin shot and wounded five of the first officers to get to the scene, including one who didn't even make inside the sprawling warehouse. After that flurry of shots and with officers from throughout the region streaming in to help, he ran off and hid in the back of the building, where officers found him about an hour later and killed him during an exchange of gunfire, police said.
"He was probably waiting for us to get to him there," Aurora police Lt. Rick Robertson said. "It was just a very short gunfight and it was over, so he was basically in the back waiting for us and fired upon us and our officers fired."
Like in many of the country's mass shootings, Friday's attack was carried out by a man with a violent criminal history who was armed with a gun he wasn't allowed to have.
"That's heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking," said Nicki Gernot, who lives nearby the where the shooting happened. "It's a little unnerving. Unsettling the fact that it did happen right here."
Martin, 45, had six arrests over the years in Aurora, one of Chicago's far western suburbs, for what police Chief Kristen Ziman described as "traffic and domestic battery-related issues" and for violating an order of protection. He also had a 1995 felony conviction for aggravated assault in Mississippi that should have prevented him from buying his gun, Ziman said.
He was able to buy the Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handgun on March 11, 2014, because he was issued a firearm owner's identification card two months earlier after passing an initial background check. It wasn't until he applied for a concealed carry permit five days after buying the gun and went through a more rigorous background check that uses digital fingerprinting that his Mississippi conviction was flagged and his firearm owner's ID car was revoked, Ziman said. Once his card was revoked, he could no longer legally have a gun.
"Absolutely, he was not supposed to be in possession of a firearm," she said.
But he was, and on Friday he took it and several magazines of ammunition to work.
Ziman said she doesn't know why Martin was being fired or whether he showed up that day just for the meeting or to work his regular shift. The company, which makes valves for industrial purposes, issued a statement Friday expressing condolences but not mentioning the circumstances surrounding the attack.
The employee who survived being shot is recovering at a hospital, Ziman said Saturday. None of the officers who were shot received life-threatening wounds, she said.
Police identified the slain workers as human resources manager Clayton Parks of Elgin; plant manager Josh Pinkard of Oswego; mold operator Russell Beyer of Yorkville; stock room attendant and fork lift operator Vicente Juarez of Oswego; and human resources intern and Northern Illinois University student Trevor Wehner, who lived in DeKalb and grew up in Sheridan.
"He always, always was happy. I have no bad words for him. He was a wonderful person. You can't say anything but nice things about him," Jay Wehner said of his nephew.
The White House said President Donald Trump was briefed on the shooting and monitoring the situation as he prepared to depart for a weekend trip to his home in Palm Beach, Florida. President Trump tweeted his thanks to law enforcement officers in Aurora and offered his condolences to the victims and their families. "America is with you," he said.
The company that owns the Henry Pratt Facility, Mueller Water Products, released the following statement on their website:
“Mueller Water Products is shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy that occurred today at our Henry Pratt facility in Aurora, Illinois. Our hearts are with the victims and their loved ones, the first responders, the Aurora community and the entire Mueller family during this extremely difficult time. Our entire focus is on the health and wellbeing of our colleagues, and we are committed to providing any and all support to them and their families. We continue to work closely with law enforcement, with whom we share our deepest gratitude for their support. We will provide updates as we learn more.”
A vigil has been planned for the victims Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17.